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Tim Howar leaves first West End preview of Chess as wife goes into labour

Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice's musical had some unexpected drama last night in London

Tim Howar in Chess
© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Tim Howar, who currently plays Freddie in the West End production of Chess at the Coliseum, had to leave the first preview performance in the interval.

According to eyewitness reports and on social media, the show's director Laurence Connor came on stage at the beginning of the second act to announce that Howar's wife Jodie Oliver-Howar (who celebrated her birthday on Tuesday) had gone into labour that evening, meaning understudy Cellen Chugg Jones had to go on to play the part of Freddie with little rehearsal.

Fellow cast member Michael Ball said that the event was 'proper showbiz drama', with Alexandra Burke applauding Chugg Jones for his performance and coming on at the last minute.

Cellen Chugg Jones with Michael Ball and Cassidy Jason during the curtain call
© Kevin Wilson

The 1984 musical by ABBA songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, The Lion King) tells the story of two chess champions, Freddie and Anatoly, battling it out in the midst of the Cold War.

The new production marks the first time that the show has run in the West End since 1986. The piece is directed by Laurence Connor (School of Rock, Miss Saigon), and features the English National Opera's orchestra and chorus, conducted by John Rigby. It has choreography by Stephen Mear, with design by Matthew Kinley, lighting design by Patrick Woodroffe, video design by Terry Scruby, sound design by Mick Potter and costume design by Christina Cunningham.

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