Chess, the story of rivalry between a Russian and American chess grandmaster, was brought to the Nuffield Theatre by Southampton Operatic Society for four days in February. With the theatre having recently won The Stage’s Regional Theatre of the Year 2015, the expectations of Chess were high. Thankfully, the 80 year old operatic society did not fail to deliver a fantastic performance to large audiences throughout its short appearance at the theatre. With strong performances from leads, ensemble and the orchestra, the show received a large and impressed crowd every night.
The musical begins at the Chess world championships in Italy where American and Russian grandmaster meet in a heated final. American grandmaster and world champion, Freddy Trumper, is joined by his Hungarian-American wife, Florence, who falls in love with the rival Russian, Anatoly, adding further hatred to the already heated relationship. The emotional blow leaves Trumper vulnerable and concedes his title to the Russian who soon defects to the West, leaving his wife and children behind to be with Florence. Anatoly soon finds himself with an inner conflict regarding returning to Russia, his love for Florence and, in common with Trumper, his pure love for chess. Back in Russia, Molokov, Anatoly’s second, is busy training the world champion’s next rival, with the intention of Anatoly losing the match and returning to motherland Russia. As Anatoly persists to defeat his challenger, he remembers his loyalties, returning to Russia to continue his life with his wife and children.
The underlying topic of the Cold War tension between Soviet Russia and America is deep throughout the storyline of Chess which the Operatic Society conveyed incredibly. The smug, smooth Americans contrasted superbly to the Russian machines clothed all in black. The impressive songs by Molokov, heavy in a Russian accent, were incredibly believable along with the mechanistic choreography of the Russian’s ensemble. ‘The Soviet machine advances’ was just one line among many I was singing the next day. The topic of war is further evident with the story becoming a conflict of politics between the two opposing countries with Molokov manipulating The Russian, Anatoly’s, decisions.
Unfortunately, at times, the ensemble took away from the talented voices with work needing to be done to make choreography even more interesting. This being said, the entire cast transported the audience to Bangkok in the opening to the second half with the ensemble performing brilliantly and radiating the culture of Asia. Furthermore, after leaving the performance, I found it hard to recall the story in detail. Although the main storyline was performed with talented music voices, it was sometimes distracting to understand the finer details of the musical’s storyline.
All in all, watching the show was a great evening out. The volunteers and passionate performers of Southampton Operatic Society were a delight to watch and the enjoyment on each and every performers face and the audiences was undeniable. The talented leads were played by Southampton graduates Peter ‘Peewee’ Ward and Alex ‘Teddy’ Clements and there performance was incredibly strong. The society may have moved on from the Nuffield, however I would highly recommend both Chess the musical and the Southampton Operatic Society’s further performances to anybody with an interest in theatre.