Abbey Theatre (Nuneaton) review: Chess
Chess, the Musical: Abbey Theatre, Nuneaton, to Nov 9.
This must be one of the most ambitious musicals ever staged by The Masqueraders Theatrical Society, with a 38-strong cast plus an 18-strong band playing away like mad on a balcony above their heads.
The staging is ingenious and the leads are all strong vocalists, although the chorus had to fight to be heard above the musicians who, I was told, hadn't managed a sound check at the weekend due to a power cut in Nuneaton.
The music is great - written by none other than Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of Abba fame. But you do also need to hear the lyrics, by Tim Rice, because that's the dialogue.
I've no doubt the sound balance will improve because this is an intrguing tale of chess tournaments set amid deteriorating East-West relations...but it could just as easily be war.
In the Russian corner is Rich Yates, who powerfully sings the role of Anatoly as he comes face to face with tantruming American Alex Lewis, who rejoices in the name of Freddie Trumper (was this really the original name in the score composed by Benny and Bjorn back in1984?).
Both men are ably supported by the superb Laura Walsh (Florence) who gets to sing the hit song of the show, I Know Him So Well, in duet with sweet-voiced Libby Brookes (Svetlana).
The Abbey Theatre needed a bigger stage for some of the action, which isn't to say that director Mike Chappell didn't make the most of every inch, including newspaper headlines on screens at either side. Frankly I don't think I've ever seen so many people crowded on to such a small set.
But the choreography by Nikki Deeming worked beautifully in the chessboard scenes with the two ballet dancers delicately removing ribbons from each other's arms, as chess moves were being won and lost somewhere behind them.
Apparently since rehearsals started chess has taken off locally and you can now get a decent game at the nearby Miner's Arms.
Anyway, back to the plot.
It's complicated, clever, hard to catch the words at times, but an amazingly solid block of work by The Masqueraders.
For tickets go to: https://www.abbeytheatre.co.uk