Love not chess the focus for Revel Horwood’s touring production

Craig Revel Horwood

Craig Revel Horwood

For now the 45-year-old dancer, choreographer and director is attempting to make exactly the right moves with Chess, which begins a rare UK tour starting at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal from the end of the month. The musical created by Sir Tim Rice and Abba’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus is regarded as a sleeping giant of a show because just the 1986 original West End production has been a commercial success.

“They say that no one has quite got the show right but I really disagree because every director has their own vision. I did the show nine years ago in Denmark with a massive company, 14 singers, an orchestra of 30 and a dance troupe as well. But I stylised it and loved doing it, so I have had experience of it and that’s what led me to want to do it as an actor-music show. The music is so fantastic I wanted to let the audience see what instruments actually play the music and support the drama,” says Horwood who was a lot keener to explore the love triangle of chessplaying rivals The American (James Fox from Fame Academy and Eurovision) and The Russian (Daniel Koek, who toured the North-East with West Side Story) and Florence (Shona White from West End triumph Wicked) rather than the game itself of the Cold War setting.

“It’s a love triangle and I haven’t harped on about chess too much or the Cold War which really has no relevance these days. To be honest chess as a game is far too slow for me, I’m a chequers sort of person. I adore people who play it but, for me, it’s not the highlight of an evening,” he jokes.

“Chess is a challenging games as is this musical to put on stage,” adds Horwood who feels that directing a series of similar productions at the Watermill Theatre gives him the chance to bring out the story of Chess.

But even the ultra-confident Aussie isn’t positive about his version going any further than the current tour. “I suppose it would be wonderful to see it working in the West End and see it given a new lease of life to a whole new generation. So, yes, you can say it’s an ambition but it’s not the main ambition… that’s the love aspect rather than Chess which is rather a boring game in theatrical terms to watch. So I’m using the chess pieces as a Greek chorus if you like to comment on these people’s emotions. Yes, it’s stlyised but it’s also a battleground which is the whole point that the musical is trying to make. So I’m trying to supply high-headed operatic staging and emotion to all those lush scenes that the music supplies. Hopefully, we’ll get away with it.”

With Tynesideborn producer Michael Harrison on board, it was almost a certainty that Horwood’s Chess would open at the Theatre Royal. But the director adds: “There’s a sympathetic audience as well, which helps when you want to get something right.

Newcastle is very vocal as well, which I like, because they’ll tell us the truth, so it’s a good place to get it up on its feet and start touring. The Strictly Come Dancing tour to the arena has always enjoyed an audience which is vocal and loud. People like a good time and Newcastle has my favourite bridge in the world.”

Horwood claims he deliberately didn’t try and recruit four star names because he sees Chess as an ensemble piece. “It’s generally written for four massive stars but all the cast of 28 is on stage all the time. No one leaves the stage apart from to change a hat, so it had to work as an ensemble, so we had to choose people who could do everything,” says Horwood, who added Poppy Tierney (Mary Poppins) and James Graeme (Phantom of the Opera) to the mix.

“The thing is I’m more famous because of being on television with Strictly while all these guys are so talented but not known outside theatre circles. The beauty of the celebrity that I have acquired does help bring a TV audience to something like this. Everyone knows One Night in Bangkok and I Know Him So Well but people don’t know they are attached to this wonderful story.”


  • It sounds like it will be an extremely interesting stageing of Chess, I have to say though I don?t like the use of the words cutting back, as I happen to have fallen in love with Chess in concert, and I?m not sure how you can cut back on the cold war when that?s in all the lyrics , I suppose it?s a question of emphasis and the spoken dialogue, Chess is a complex piece of work which is just as much about the personalities and characterisations, as the cold war or love I still except the touring production to be very good,

    But may be for the west end it would have to be the full on orchestration and choir.
    And no cutting back on anything.

  • Interesting!
    I must admit, though, to having some doubts.
    Although I believe ‘Chess’ is, musically, the best (Musical) ever – even including ‘Kristina’ (which is saying something!), West Side Story, Rodgers & Hammerstein etc – I have always been bothered by the immorality/amorality of the storyline and the unlikeability of the main characters.

    The ‘hero’ is a self-centred adulterer who doesn’t give a damn for his wife or children.
    The ‘heroine’ encourages him in this.
    And as for Freddie …

    As such, it will be interesting to see how CRH makes me care what happens to any of the participants in the ‘love triangle’!

    And, as Michael Salkeld says, I’m not sure about Chess without chess or the Cold War.

    But one thing’s certain: when the doors open, I’ll be waiting there … oh damn: wrong musical!

  • I believe that this touring production will be extremely interesting – not only in its new staging, but also in minor changes to libretto which can heighten the love triangle plot.

    Anything which enables greater access to this fantastic score is good in my book!


  • Sounds like a good idea. The problem with Chess has always been the assumptions that people a) enjoy chess, b) think Westerners are self-indulgent assholes, c) think Russians are deeply noble but misunderstood, and d) can relate to a purely utilitarian view of human relationships. I think at least addressing scenarios "a" and "d" would help a great deal. At least we will feel that we are watching real people with real conflicts instead of reactionary robots singing fantastic music about a game most of us don’t play very well.

  • After reading this im having doubts about the show now.
    Iv booked up to see the show 3 times in Cardiff ,southampton and bristol.
    When i see it in Cardiff if it has been ruined then i will not bother going to see it again.
    I have very fond memories of the 1st tour of the show in 1990 and the staging was excellent.
    But this sounds like it is going to be more like a concert and very basic.
    But i guess we will have to wait and see.

  • Yes John, let’s at least wait and see. I doubt very much that anything Craig Revel Horwood and Sarah Travis have worked on will be basic…

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