Prince Edward Theatre, London
The Musical By: Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice
3 Knights Ltd., The Shubert Organisation, Robert Fox, Ltd. for Chess Productions Ltd.
Previews began: 05, May 1986 (delayed from 30, April 1986, due to technical difficulties)
Opened: 14 May, 1986 – Closed: 08, April 1989
- Elaine Paige – Florence Vassy
- Tommy Körberg – Anatoly Sergievsky
- Murray Head – Freddie Trumper
- John Turner – Alexander Molokov
- Kevin Colson -Walter De Courcey
- Siobhan McCarthy – Svetlana Sergievsky
- Tom Jobe – The Arbiter
Aliki, Leo Andrew, Julie Armstrong, Yvonne Bachem, Julia Birch, Richard Courtice, Catherine Coffey, Anne Cox, Hugh Craig, Geoffrey Dallamore, Carol Duffy, Garrick Forbes, Wayne Fowkes, Philip Griffith, Peter Karrie, Donna King, Madeline Loftin, Patrick Long, Kim Lonsdale, Richard Lyndon, Richard Mitchell, Gail Mortley, Kerri Murphy, Mhairi Nelson, Anita Pashley, William Pool, Jane Powell, Grainne Rennihan, Richard Sampson, Jacqui Scott, Duncan Smith, Sandy Strallen, Suzanne Thomas, Sally Ann Triplett, Oke Wambu, Hilary Western, Paul Wilson
The Creative Team:
- Director – Trevor Nunn
- Scenic Design – Robin Wagner
- Costume Design – Theoni V. Aldredge
- Lighting Design – David Hersey
- Sound Design – Andrew Bruce
- Executive Producers: Judy Craymer, Gatchell & Neufeld Ltd.
- Orchestrations and Arrangements: Anders Eljas
- Choreography: Molly Molloy
- Musical Direction: John Owen Edwards
The head of the International Federation explains the history of the game of chess, as we move to the northern Italian town of Merano, where this year’s championships are taking place. As the townsfolk prepare for the occasion, the brash American champion, Frederick Trumper arrives with his second, Hungarian orphan Florence Vassy. In their hotel room, Florence explains to Freddie that the press will portray him badly if he continues with his bad boy attitude, just before he heads off to a press conference where he attacks a journalist who questions his relationship with Miss Vassy. His Russian challenger, Anatoly Sergievsky, and Alexander Molokov, his second (actually a KGB agent), watch with curiosity and disdain on TV, before Anatoly laments as to how he has got to where he has.
The opening ceremony features an arbiter insisting on holding the proceedings together, US and Soviet diplomats vowing their side will win, and marketers just looking to make a buck. During the chess match, Freddie believes that the Russians are tampering with the game and storms off, leaving the chessboard on the floor, and Florence to pick up the pieces with Anatoly, Molokov, and the Arbiter, whereby she agrees to bring Freddie and Anatoly together to sort out their issues. It turns out that Freddie engineered the stunt to get a higher price from the TV company; when Florence finds out, they argue, leading Florence to lose it with Freddie when he brings her father, believed captured by the Russians during the 1956 uprising, into the argument. She reflects that “nobody’s on nobody’s side,” before heading off to the Merano Mountain Inn for the meeting between East and West. Freddie doesn’t turn up, leaving Anatoly and Florence to eventually embrace, before being interrupted by Freddie, who has been engineering new financial terms.
After the next chess game, Florence leaves Freddie, whereby he laments on how his unhappy childhood left him the man he is today. Florence goes with Anatoly to the British Embassy, where he attempts to seek exile in the west, and she reflects on whether it is best to love a stranger. Walter de Courcey, however, has his own plans, and has tipped off the media, who ambush the pair at Merano station. Anatoly tells the awaiting audience that his land’s only borders lie around his heart.
A year later, the Russian is set to defend his championship in Bangkok, Thailand. Freddie is already there, chatting up locals about the nightlife before taking his place as television presenter for the championship. Florence and the Russian are now lovers, and worry about the situation, especially the impending arrival of his wife, Svetlana, from Russia. Molokov, meanwhile, has trained a new protege, Viigand, to challenge the Russian, meanwhile spying on the opposing pair.
Walter manipulates Freddie into rattling the Russian on live TV , showing him footage of his wife’s arrival. She and Florence both reflect on their relationships with him. Molokov blackmails Svetlana into making Anatoly lose the match, whilst de Courcey informs Florence that her father is still alive in Russia, and will be released if Anatoly loses. Neither of these ploys work, so Molokov and de Courcey attempt to get Freddie to convince the pair to throw the match.
However Freddie is more interested in winning back the love of Florence. Secretly, Freddie arranges to meet Anatoly in a temple, whereby he informs Sergievsky of a flaw in his challenger’s game. In the deciding game of the match, the Russian manages an exceptional victory, and realizes that it may be the only success he can achieve – Svetlana castigates him for wallowing in the crowd’s empty praise, whilst Florence is similarly annoyed with him for casting aside his moral ideals. Later, he and Florence reflect on their story that seemed so promising, and how they “go on pretending/ stories like ours/ have happy endings.”
Florence is left alone, when de Courcey informs her that Anatoly has defected back to the USSR, meaning that her father will be released, that is, if he is actually alive…. Florence breaks down, telling Walter that he is using people’s lives for nothing, before repeating Anatoly’s sentiments from the end of Act One, that her only borders lie around her heart.