Sunday, 10 April 2011

'Chess The Musical', Glasgow King's Theatre, 9/4/11

So I saw the show again in Glasgow some months after seeing it first time around. The Auditorium was packed and who should be there also? Only Benny Andersson! I don't believe he'd seen this version of 'Chess' before and I gather that he enjoyed it.

Much that I said in my previous, Edinburgh, review still holds true, but I found the show sharper and more focused, especially choreographically, this time. The music sounded amazing and Sarah Travis' orchestration is truly wonderful. I still have issues with the dance interludes, the song re-ordering etc. as before but I do feel the video played better this time 'round.
One thing I never mentioned before was how pointless it is to have Freddie apply exaggerated make-up and snort cocaine before the interview; we already get that he's a bit fucked up, so what is it trying to say? Is it an attempt to explain, somewhat, why Freddie's behaviour can be so erratic? Because he's a dope-fiend? It doesn't really wash with me. One has only to look at some of the real-life Trumpers of the world to know that there are some people who just are obsessive, dangerous and unpredictable. Unless, of course, that particular scene is all for Walter's benefit who seems to have some sort of sexual fascination with the American at this point. Walter becomes incredibly creepy and disgusting at such times. Power over people is obviously a turn on for him. Saying that I found that Walter (James Graeme) being played with an English accent really does nothing for the plot - it is much more appropriate that he be American as per the original; as the idea of an Englishman and Russian making deals has no real power in the cold war story. The whole purpose of Walter and Molokov is to represent the politic machinations of the time and the change in Walter's nationality negates that immensely.

The cast overall, however, were far more at ease with their roles than previously although this meant that at times Daniel Koek as Anatoly was a bit too over-the-top, too often for my liking. His ad-libbing with vocal lines and timings also left me a bit underwhelmed at times, though when he's on fire he's on fire!

The whole production is somewhat heightened so the cast do need to be 'bigger' than the norm but there does come a point where it just becomes a bit annoying. Shona White, as Florence, was also at risk of the same but managed to just about toe the line and reign herself in before she goes too far. James Fox's Freddie was again a standout and his manic characterization perfectly suited the production and the role even if he does slap his hands once too often.
David Erik's Arbiter was excellent again and the entire ensemble shone even better than before. Poppy Tierney as Svetlana and Steve Varnom as Molokov were both notable despite the odd dodgy Russian accent. Varnom's mic also suffered some issues during the evening which makes me think that the free-floating head mics that are typically worn these days (the type that follows the jaw line) aren't necessarily better than the type that is glued to an actor's face; at least then the mic is harder to knock or move.

Sound and lighting design were crisp and exciting, more so than I had previously noted, and I found the production as a whole was funnier than before whilst, with sharper choreography, the dances (although quite dramatically redundant) were excellently executed.

I still feel the last half of act II is a bit rushed and truncated, never really allowing time for any sort of exposition on the state of the relationships between Anatoly, his wife and his lover. Also; the newscast dialogue, primarily spoken by Walter, is often stunted and could do with being sped up a little, although I'm sure this is the fault of director Craig Revel Horwood and not the actors. As they are, these speeches slow the flow of things and, being necessary for exposition, should be worked on more; if only to sustain audience attention. That said this is still a truly wonderful show and the friend I took, never having seen 'Chess' before, understood what happened onstage perfectly, saying that the physical direction certainly helped.
I really hope that it gets a shot at the West End, albeit with some tweaking especially in that last quarter.

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