WhatsOnStage Logo

The Machine (Manchester International Festival)

The story of chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov taking on a computer makes for thrilling theatre, says Richard Woodward

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
WhatsOnStage logo

Campfield Market Hall, Manchester

Hadley Fraser as Kasparov in The Machine
© Helen Maybanks

Who would have thought a play about chess with a title as mundane as The Machine could be so thrilling? Expecting something worthy but dull I was out manoeuvred at every turn and checkmated left, right and centre.

This is not just a play but a happening – an event. The centrepiece of the show is the match that took place in 1997 - we are in that studio audience. But as tension builds the action moves around in time and place to reveal how the whole amazing fixture came to be and where these people had come from.

As the computer reveals its human face in the people who programmed it Garry and his entourage become more driven.

Josie Rourke directs a huge team with such dexterity. In a blink the production switches from the spectacle of choreographed computers and balletic chess moves to inside the beating hearts of the people involved. It is a breath taking and riveting ride.

In a wonderful ensemble of players Hadley Fraser is terrific as the driven and angry Kasparov and Francesca Annis is superb as the ambitious, domineering mother to outweigh all feisty mothers.

As an American television show presenter Phil Nichol is hilariously real and Kenneth Lee is magnetic as the geek at home with technology but at a loss with human love. But the whole company - some giving amazing performances in two or three roles - deliver the goods.

Matt Charman has written a fascinating play that absorbs you in performance and sends you out talking about it asking ‘what happened next?' What more can you expect from a play?

The Machine is an engrossing piece of theatre that deserves a future life. It is yet another feather in the cap of Manchester International Festival.

- Richard Woodward