Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London
After the success earlier in the year of Bonnie and Clyde in Concert, the bar has been set rather high for what concert productions at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane can provide, and this most recent one certainly hits the mark.
Chess, last seen in London in 2018 at the Coliseum, is set in the 1970s/80s amid the Cold War. Two chess masters meet in Bangkok to fight it out for the world championship title, but also end up in political and romantic competitions.
By Tim Rice’s own admission in the programme notes, the music is the heart of this show, with many finding fault with the book that is sometimes all over the place. Thankfully in this production everything is fairly sleek and issues with the book can be overlooked thanks to the sumptuous cast, choir and orchestra.
Director Nick Winston put on the show in a previous iteration in Japan and has superbly brought it to the London stage with a version that puts the focus strongly on storytelling, both through the music and the buoyant choreography by Alexzandra Sarmiento and Tara Young.
This is further helped in no small way by the outstanding LMTO Orchestra, directed expertly by Freddie Tapner. The sumptuous, melodically complex, beautifully syncopated score is showcased to the highest degree. There’s a sensitivity given to the more pared back moments whilst the rousing, dramatic pieces of score are stretched to their full extent to provide real wow moments. The LMTO Chorus also adds excellent power and oomph to the proceedings.
There were some songs which were cut from the show, namely ‘Talking Chess’ between Anatoly and Freddie and ‘Commie Newspapers’ which I think would have helped the plot be a bit clearer, especially for those seeing the show for the first time. But of course given the short turnaround and runtime for the concerts, I can certainly understand why some pieces had to be cut and shifted and what was still included was excellent. Any plot issues really fly under the radar when you have such a wonderful team on stage and offstage making everything else so enjoyable.
This onstage team is made up of some musical theatre heavyweights and there are standout performances throughout. Samantha Barks’ rendition of ‘Nobody’s Side’ and the ‘Anthem Reprise’ are definitely at the top. Joel Harper-Jackson’s ‘Pity The Child’, Hadley Fraser’s ‘Anthem’ also bring the house down, and Frances Mayli McCann and Barks also complement one another beautifully in the classic ‘I Know Him So Well’.
Having first seen Chess in concert version at the Royal Albert Hall in 2008 and falling in love with it at age 10, seeing this production of equal strength was an absolute treat to witness. Here’s hoping we see more of this outstanding adaptation and the stellar cast who brought it to life!
photo credit: Mark Senior