CHESS The Bacon Theatre,
Cheltenham: 8th – 11th July 2015


By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: July 9, 2015

Review by Judith Wordsworth

Promenade Productions present “Chess” by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice, directed by Daphne Herbert

Chess would be a challenging production for any amateur company but what one can say but those that missed tonight’s first night of the Promenade Productions missed a show worthy of being on a West End stage. Buy, beg or steal a ticket before the run ends.

Under the first-rate skilful direction of Daphne Herbert this production was nothing short of stupendous, brilliant, terrific, astounding and fabulous. Her imaginative use of forward and back projections on to a screen behind the action gave another dimension to what was going on on the checkerboard stage with simple risers.

Do not be put off if you know nothing about the game of Chess, this is more about human pawns in the West v East / Americans v Soviet Union cold war even though the storyline involves two world chess championship matches. If you link the game of chess with quiet deliberation you’re in for big a surprise.

The conflict between two Chess Grand Masters, Russian Anatoly Sergievsky (Neil Burge) and American Freddie Trumper (Gary Lines) continues all the way through the musical with the love triangle between Anatoly, Freddie and Florence Vassey (Olivia Sheldon) forming the core of the plot.

 

The show opens with David Purchase as the stealthy referee-narrator Arbiter setting the high standard of what we are about to hear and see and followed by an opening Chorus with not a note out of place nor a twitch or shuffle. The orchestra under Dave Whittle’s baton was one of the best amateur and semi-professional orchestras I have heard accompany an Am-Dram performance in recent times even though at odd times was slightly a shade too loud.

Peter Hughes was completely believable as the Russian Molokov speaking and singing with a secure Russian accent as was his American counterpart Ben Perkins playing Walter de Courcy. Wonderful voices and acting the pair of them. The male Chorus, both in the Russian drinking/dancing scene and British Embassy "Embassy Lament", brought chuckles from the audience. Dancers were excellently used to portray chess pieces moving about the board, superb choreography by Liz Warner throughout.

Jodie Dwight (Anatoly’s wife Svetlana) appeared in Act 2 but made her presence felt with superb singing and her duet “I Know Him So Well” with Olivia Sheldon (Florence Vassey) was sung with tenderness and passion.

Gary Lines (Freddie Trumper) had tough and demanding songs in Act 1 which he handled well especially “Pity the Child”. By Act 2 he had many of the audience swaying along with his rendition of “One Night in Bankok” and was much more comfortable with the vocal range of Act 2’s songs.

Neil Burge (Anatoly Sergievsky) has a wonderful voice with clear diction and sang with great skill and control whether solo “Anthem", or in duets "Mountain Duet" or ensembles “A Model of Decorum and Tranquillity”.

As for Olivia Sheldon she should leave her day job. Any West End stage would be honoured to have her tread their boards. A truly outstanding talented singer and actress with a stunning voice she gave an emotionally convincing performance. Her final duet was heart rendering as was her solo "Heaven Help My Heart".

Judith Wordsworth