Chess: the Musical

Theatre Bouquets 2017

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Once again we have been wowed by some fantastic theatre this year. Here, in order of viewing (and with the benefit of hindsight), are our favourite productions of 2017.

The Winter’s Tale – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

The Winter's Tale

This thrilling, modern-day version of Shakespeare’s play was dynamic and audacious – with the whole fourth act recast in Scots. We loved every minute of it, especially Maureen Beattie’s performance as Paulina.

Chess: The Musical  – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Chess

The students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland thrilled the audience with a skilful display of all things theatrical. We loved the sophisticated choreography (often incorporating the real time use of video cameras) and choral singing that sent chills down our spines.

Nell Gwyn – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Nell Gwyn\

This superb production of Jessica Swales’ Olivier Award-winning comedy was a delight in just about every respect. From the superbly realised set, through to the opulent costumes and the lively period music, this was fabulous to behold.

Death of a Salesman – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Death of a Salesman

It was the direction that made this production so good: Abigail Graham did a wonderful job of clarifying everybody’s pain. And Nicholas Woodeson was perfect for the lead role, conveying Willy’s struggle with warmth and vitality.

The Toxic Avenger – Pleasance One, Edinburgh

The Toxic Avenger

A musical in the same vein that made Little Shop of Horrors such a pleasure, The Toxic Avenger was an unqualified delight, romping happily along powered by its own exuberance and the efforts of a stellar cast, who gave this everything they had – and then some.

The Power Behind the Crone – Assembly George Square, Edinburgh

The Power Behind the Crone

This was a wonderful piece of theatre, an exemplar of a Fringe show: beautifully scripted, and acted with precision and panache. Alison Skilbeck had absolute control of the material and created an impressive range of distinct, believable characters.

Seagulls – The Leith Volcano, Edinburgh

Volcano Theatre SEagulls at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

This was the most ambitious, exhilarating piece of theatre we saw this year. Site-specific productions – when the site is as spectacular and relevant as this (we were in an abandoned church, which had been flooded with forty-five tons of water) – can be truly exciting, and this one had a lot to offer.

Safe Place – Rose Street Theatre, Edinburgh

Safe Place

Safe Place provided a sensitive, insightful examination of the uneasy relationship between trans-activism and feminism. It asked (and answered) many questions, all within the framework of a nuanced and intelligent play.

Angels in America: NT Live – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Angels In America

Clocking in at just under eight hours, Tony Kushner’s play offered us a “gay fantasia on national themes” – a sprawling, painful and searingly funny depiction of New York in the 1980s, fractured and ill-prepared to deal with the AIDS epidemic. A truly iconic piece of theatre.

Twelfth Night/Romeo & Juliet – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Twelfth Night

Romeo & Juliet

Merely Theatre gave us some ‘stripped-back’ Shakespeare, performing Twelfth Night and Romeo & Juliet in rep. The plays featured only five actors and the casting was gender-blind. It all made for an interesting dynamic and prompted us to re-examine familiar scenes.

Cockpit – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Cockpit

Cockpit was a witty, clever play, which saw the Lyceum transformed into a truly immersive space.  Director Wils Wilson served up a fascinating piece of theatre: arresting, thought-provoking, provocative and demanding – and it kept us talking for hours afterwards.

Cinderella – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Cinderella

We never thought a pantomime would feature in any ‘best of’ list of ours but, for the second year running, the King’s Theatre’s stalwarts managed to wow us. Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott knew exactly how to work their audience, and the special effects were truly spectacular.

Susan Singfield & Philip Caveney

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Chess: The Musical

30/03/17

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Of all the big West End musicals, Chess is a bit of an anomaly. Based around an idea by lyricist Tim Rice, with music by Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson (who, let’s face it, know more than a thing or two about composing a catchy song), it was initially a concept album, before being adapted into this theatrical version. It’s a real ensemble piece that presents a considerable challenge to anybody reckless enough to mount a production. Luckily, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is more than up to the task and they thrill a packed audience at the Festival Theatre with a skilful display of all things theatrical that is breathtakingly good. Indeed, I have to keep reminding myself all the way through, that I’m watching the work of students here – albeit from one of the most famous theatre schools in the world – because this demonstrates degrees of professionalism that would rival many of the biggest names in theatre.

Inspired by the real life story of chess grandmasters Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, it’s the story of American chess player Freddie Trumper (Barney Wilkinson) and Russian player Anotoly Sergievsky (Jamie Pritchard) – and a rivalry that extends beyond the game, when Freddie’s long time muse, Florence Vassay (Daisy Ann Fletcher), becomes romantically entangled with Anotoly. Based around two world championships and presided over by The Arbiter (Emma Torrens) the stage is set for some human life subterfuge that mirrors the complexity of the central game.

It’s all masterfully done – the three lead actors sing brilliantly, there’s some incredibly complex and sophisticated choreography (often incorporating the real time use of video cameras, à la Katie Mitchell) and choral singing that sends chills down the spine. If there’s a criticism, it’s simply that during the first half of the show, the overall volume is occasionally a little too loud, but this is sorted by the second half, which features the show’s best known songs (including, of course, the sublime I Know Him So Well, with Daisy Ann Fletcher harmonising effortlessly with Hayley VerValin as Anatoly’s Russian wife Svetlana).

All-in-all, this is a fabulous show, and director Andrew Panton and choreographer Darragh O Leary can both take a well-deserved bow – and, to be honest, you won’t find a weak element in any department of this marvellous show. It all makes for a brilliant night at the theatre.

5 stars

Philip Caveney