Director Suzanne Emerson
Musical Director Brian Thomas
Choreographer Kirsty Smith
Lighting Design Ed Hopkins
Costume Design Liz Milway
NODA Review by Michael G. Williamson
The plot of ‘Chess’ now seems a little dated and the story line was never very strong but it is always nice to see shows that are seldom performed and, once again, the Festival Players demonstrated that they are very competent musically. All of the ensemble pieces were well presented with good movement and choreography and I enjoyed the score more than I had anticipated. There were some nicely performed quartets and, altogether, the large cast showed consistent enthusiasm and commitment. All of the principals were well cast and were vocally strong.
It was interesting to see the Arbiter played by a woman and Frances Watson gave a very clear and believable interpretation. Similarly, Warren Clark was excellent as Molotov and complemented Chas Barclay as Walter particularly well. Both roles gave a lot of strength to the production and each was well supported by their national ‘teams’.
As the two protagonists, David Smithet and Steve Nicholson handled their numbers with confidence and flair and they were responsible for some nice moments. Steve provided a lot of energy and drive to the part of Trumper and both looked exactly right in their characters. David was especially strong in the Act 1 finale. The role of Florence is a difficult one as the love triangle is not very well developed but Davinia Denham deserves great credit for a very sympathetic interpretation supported by some lovely vocals. The ‘memorable song’ was beautifully presented by both Davinia and Harriet Graves as Svetlana and was one of the high spots of the evening. In general, the overall presentation was good with a simple but effective set and convincing photographic support. A lot of thought had also gone into the themed wardrobe but I was a little disappointed not to see a more defined costume approach to the short prologue sequence and the Chess ballet. Having said that, the choreography itself was superb throughout and very well executed. Altogether, this was a well directed, professional piece of work that only suffered from weaknesses within the original material.
Combinations Review by Julie Pettrucci
A story about the love triangle between two players in a world chess
championship and the woman who manages one but falls in love with the
other seems a very strange thing to set a musical around. I was unfamiliar
with the show before I saw the Festival Players’ production and it was
obvious from the outset that one had to thoroughly concentrate on the words of the songs in order to be able to follow the story.
The staging of the opening number (telling the legend of how chess as a
board game was allegedly invented) and the chorus movement around the
stage throughout was outstanding. The excellence of the singing is without question with lots of good chorus numbers — I particularly enjoyed the Civil Servants song.
Much thought had gone into the little extra touches such as with the
merchandising and paparazzi scenes, and my felicitations to the chorus who had to wear coats, scarves, jumpers etc. on what must have been one of the hottest nights of the year.
The four main characters played by WARREN CLARK (Alexander Molokov),
DAVID SMITHET (Anatoly Sergievsky), DAVINIA DENHAM (Florence
Vassy) and STEVE NICHOLSON (Frederick Trumper) were all impressive,
especially Miss Denham who had the lion’s share of the complex songs. All handled their challenging roles well and deserve all the accolades which come their way. Special mention must also be made of FRANCES WATSON who did a splendid job as The Arbiter, HARRIET GRAVES (Svetlana Sergievskaya) and CHAS BARCLAY (Walter).
The small but beautifully formed orchestra under the baton of BRIAN
THOMAS was probably the best I have heard for a Festival Players show for
some while and congratulations to them for meeting the challenges the, at times, intricate music.
This show is extremely technical as it relies much on overhead cameras
showing the chess board as the game ensues and the filming of press
conferences in real time, which are relayed to television screens on stage.
So—much could go wrong if the gremlins got in. The evening performance I saw was delayed by about 20 minutes because of technical problems. On
enquiring afterwards it appears that the link between the stage manager’s
desk and the lighting and sound box was not working. Many, many
congratulations to Stage Managers Emma Coonan and Andrew Booker and
lighting and sound men Edward Hopkins and Carl Bowles who, through a
series of telephone messages and hand signals, ran the show seamlessly.
Following on from their NODA award winning production of Sweeney Todd in 2009.
Festival Players have another success on their hands with Chess, which, as is becoming a habit, played to sell-out houses. Plans are afoot for a production of Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan’s musical comedy The Producers for 2011— I can hardly wait!