Chess, by the Abba boys and Tim Rice, boasts one of the most thrilling scores of recent times but has had a problematic production history. Craig Revel Horwood’s flamboyant actor-musician take on the Cold War love story has a Greek chorus of extravagantly dressed chess pieces. The integration of the musicians works extremely well and Horwood creates some memorable stage pictures. The set, video and lighting ( Christopher Woods, Jack James and Ben Cracknell ) is impressive.
The four leads are strong and there are especially thrilling vocal performances from Shona White, as Florence, and Daniel Koek, as Anatoly. I enjoyed James Fox, particularly in his more reflective moments and the excellent Poppy Tierney, as Svetlana, makes a strong impression with little stage time. Her ‘I Know Him So Well’ duet with White was beautifully done.
The sound at The Playhouse, which can be acoustically tricky, is harsh and over-loud, which meant many of Rice’s excellent lyrics were unintelligible. Indeed, the production could do with a few quieter moments to allow the plight of the main characters to resonate more with the audience.
However, this is a spectacular and impressive new version of the show.