Chess by the ENO

Chess
Chess by the ENO

Chess is a piece that I have appreciated, especially musically, for a while, having performed in the show myself a number of years ago. The show is set during the politically driven Cold War. American Chess grandmaster Freddy Trumper takes on Russian grandmaster,  Anatoly Sergievsky but Freddy lets ego get in the way and soon Freddy’s number two, Florence has switched sides. Following this, the game becomes about much more than Chess itself and their family lives as well as their reputations hang in the balance.

ChessI have no choice to start this review with the music. It is a show that is already brilliantly orchestrated with a score range from power rock to classical pieces. To hear the ENO play the score is stunning and literally spine tingling at times.

Luckily they have a cast that do the music and the ENO justice. The ensemble has a stunning wall of sound when singing with the ENO that is rarely heard. Turning to the principals, Tim Howar plays Trumper and steals the show for me. Not only does he have the cocky and confident swagger perfected he manages to sing incredibly difficult song such as ‘Pity The Child’ with impact and emotional intelligence. I also particularly enjoyed Alexandra Burke’s performance as Svetlana, Anatoly’s jilted wife. Often this part can fade into nothing but with her not only given the renowned ‘I Know Him So Well,’ and ‘Someone Else’s Story,’ a new song is added for the part as well as snippets of scenes to help establish her character and turmoil.

ChessMichael Ball played Anatoly and his interpretation was that of a careful and considered champion.  His character particularly came to the fore during  ‘The Interview,’ when he was confronted by Trumper and the reality of what Anatoly had left behind.  Michael Ball also has a tone to his voice that is perfect for songs such as Anthem, which left Act 1 finishing on a real high point.

 

Florence was played by Cassidy Janson. She played the part a lot softer than normal and as a result some of the numbers lacked the bite and attack that they often have and left me feeling a bit underwhelmed.

The show is also staged imaginatively with the effective use of screens which helped heighten the feeling that everyone across the world was watching these two Chess players and its consequential political importance. It also helped hone in on the characters emotion at vital points, ensuring that nuances of the principals performance were not missed.

ChessWhilst the stage was huge with an impressive and effective lighting rig the show still felt intimate. Often in Chess the story appears complex or simply superfluous to the beautiful music but Laurence Connor, the director, really managed to get across the personal side to this political show.

 

This is a well directed, interesting and most of all beautifully played/sung performance of Chess. The combination of the ENO, the current cast and director has resulted in a piece that needs hearing by as many as possible.

To find out more about the show and book tickets visit the website of the ENO. You can also get Rush Tickets for £25 on Today Tix app.

If you liked this review you might also like my review of Strictly Ballroom, Bat Out of Hell and Young Frankenstein.

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