CHESS Tour 2010/2011 reviews – I was there…

A superb cast of West End stars including James Fox (Fame Academy, Jesus Christ Superstar), Shona White (Wicked), Daniel Koek (West Side Story), Poppy Tierney (Mary Poppins, Aspects of Love, The Witches of Eastwick), James Graeme (The Phantom of the Opera) and David Erik (Dirty Dancing, The Phantom of the Opera) lead a cast of actors and musicians in this unmissable production.

Written by Tim Rice and ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, CHESS has one of the greatest musical theatre scores of all time including One Night In Bangkok, Pity The Child, Anthem, You And I and, of course, I Know Him So Well.

Two of the world’s greatest chess masters battle it out at the world chess championships but their greatest contest is for the love of one woman.

Amidst political intrigue and international conspiracies, the American and the Russian fight to win the heart of Florence Vassy in a romantic triangle that mirrors the heightened passions of the Cold War all set to an explosive score by the composers of Mamma Mia! and the lyricist of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita.

Please leave your reviews of Craig Revel Horwood’s touring production of CHESS in this thread.

WARNING: for those yet to see the show…the reviews are guaranteed to contain spoilers.

***Reviews are now coming out an they are mostly sensational! See The Stage’s, Newcastle Chronicle’s and Whatsonstage’s for starters.


  • saw the show in Edinburgh last night. as a huge abba fan but never having seen Chess before or even heard the concept album i was interested to see what the show was like given i heard so many stories around the ‘trauma of chess’

    there is a lot to like in this show however as an avid theatre goer i was left a little cold by the whole experience.

    CRH has got a great bunch of talented actors/musicians together and i really was impressed with this.
    The songs are pretty fantastic – Nobody’s side was just phenomenal
    Shona White is great as is The Russian.

    The book is frankly terrible IMHO – as someone coming in cold to this musical it was difficult to work out what was going on at times and why the characters do what they do. as others have said, the characters are sketched in between singing these wonderful powerful songs.

    i felt that songs in musicals should continue the story but felt at time s they stopped the story from continuing in a fluid manner.

    James Fox while a good singer i found inaudible at times/ Poppy Tierney was OK but her voice became shrill in her upper register and sang with a russian accent which was vaguely comical at times when you are meant to be feeling her despair at being left by her husband.

    The other problem as previously states is the sound – Edinburgh Playhouse always has issues but i note other reviewers mentioned the same – i found James FOx particularly hard to decipher.

    whilst i think the best thing about the show is its songs, without a coherant and interesting story, i cannot see how vast majority of people coming to the show new will embrace it.

    on a totally unrelated note it didnt help that i had a middle aged couple in front of us (they were in front row) who proceeded to drink 2 PINTS of wine each by the time the 2nd act started who began to fidget, talk, laugh, shout, snog and generally think they were the stars of the show. both my partner and the poor gentleman next to her asked them both to be quiet which sent her on a voodoo ritual of pointing at people around her and saying she was giving them the ‘evil eye’ i did lead me to losing concentration for a full 15mins of the show and that could have clouded my judgement – i am just despairing that people coming to the theatre think its cool to act like they are at a football match. 2 complete idiots really. i just think the theatre doesnt care as long as they are selling alcohol its money.

    but what do you do ? the actors mist have been aware of these 2 in the front but they were great and carried on withe the performance

    overall 6/7 out of 10.

  • I saw this show on Saturday and was very disappointed. I felt Shona White was simply awful. She was not singing, but shouting and her acting skills were incredibly poor.

    The only memory I have of this show is a very noisy black and white blur and I certainly regret paying for good seats to watch this rubbush

  • I still have not had time to write a proper ‘review’ of the show, but, much as I love the company and the production in general, a few thoughts are on my mind at the moment:

    If you are highlighting the ‘love story’ as stated by CRH in every interview he does, then why chop up the big and beautiful love song in the show?!! ‘You and I’ has less than half of the impact it should have. It is difficult to believe that Florence and Anatoly have any feelings whatsoever for each other. Much as Shona does her best to bring some drama and pathos to the scene, she is fighting a losing battle because of how it’s been staged and cut. Anatoly is as cold as stone throughout the whole show, so why she is with him, must only be because he is less abusive than Freddie!

    Freddie is a less likable character than ever, but full marks to James for a fantastic performance and managing to stop us from hating him completely.

    As mentioned before I really enjoyed the production, but the story (pretty thin at the best of times) has been practically eradicated in favour of spectacle (much as I love the spectacle) it just makes the show feel very cheap at time.

    When there is drama it’s treated like melodrama and totally over the top, crawling around on the floor, heavy panting and thinking he is Lady Macbeth (in the hand rubbing scene)in the case of Anatoly as an example! It’s because of this disrespect for the story and lack of character and drama that those reviewers who aren’t blown away by the pure talent of the company and the audio and visual bombardment are left with no option but to be critical about the show. As it stands it will always divide people, but I feel many opportunities have been missed because of directorial choices in telling (or not telling) the story, that could have brought better reviews from a wider audience.

    The sound was also ridiculously loud, to the point where it was almost impossible to hear what was being sung – and probably why Shona has ended up ‘shouting’ the lady has a wonderful voice and is the biggest single asset to this show (though the entire company are amazing) on second viewing the sound was much lower and everybody sounded much much clearer.

    I was also wondering about the "25 years on" reference. Surely act two would need to be set in 1981 for it to be 25 years on (if we assume Florence is talking about her life since the uprising) but in fact as she was suppose to be 5 at the time of the uprising she should be saying 29 years on (if it’s 1980) originally the show was set in 1986 and she said 35 years on, so that implies that it was referring to her entire life… a strange, careless lyric???

    And does the lyrics to Someone Else’s Story really make a lot of sense if sung by Svetlana? They can be shoe-horned to having meaning, but if it was being written for her now, she wouldn’t say ‘lately’, ‘miss me if I go’ (he has already gone! of course he won’t miss her!) ‘yesterday’ what happened then? they haven’t even met yet, she must have seen the writing on the wall a year ago! Line after line does not make any kind of ‘normal’ sense and so we don’t get the chance to really know anything about Svetlana. It can all be made to fit, but if it was being written for that character it would not be thought of as good writing. Why not give her new and better lyrics for the person she is.

    WHY play the Global Fanfare every five minutes! The show would be five minutes shorter if they cut this stupid use of this music. It is fine maybe once, but after that it is boring! As are the TV commentaries – a lazy and boring way of explaining what on earth is going on with the story!

    And finally for this post at least, I was surprised to see that the ‘Lyrics’ bag and T-Shirt had the line "Wanting a few more moments, who can tell." As we all know it should be "Won a few more moments…." How on earth did they make this mistake?


  • I saw it on 10th September in Newcastle. Filming had taken place the day before, for promotional clips, I was told.

    I thought most of the singing was very good, especially James Fox who performed a great Pity The Child ? one of the best I?ve heard. Daniel Koek has a great voice but is not a good actor. Shona White sang really well and understands the role, but she overacts some of the time and lacks subtlety and sophistication. She also makes the same mistake in ?Journalists? that Idina Menzel makes on the RAH CD, which makes me suspect that she learnt that part of the show by listening to that RAH recording!
    Where is the Musical Director?!

    I tried to put myself in the shoes of a neutral theatre-goer. I happen to really love the score and as the sound was good (almost every word could be heard) and it was fairly well performed I enjoyed the evening, but most people will need more than that to get a lot out of it.

    This production makes the mistake of following the RAH version too faithfully and not bothering to seriously address the show?s problems. It takes far too long to get into the story, what there is of it. Perhaps move The Story of Chess to the end. Perhaps reinstate Merano for its humour and the single dramatic effect of the change to rock music when Freddy enters. Shorten the Arbiter (get rid of the terrible and pointless dance break), scrap the Merchandisers and Hymn to Chess. By now we are crying out for story.

    The story needs to move along so we are ready for the big musical numbers, such as Nobody?s Side and Heaven Help My Heart. The Chess theme is a wonderful piece of music but doesn’t make musical sense when shortened, as it is here. If it got the magical, balletic staging it calls for it wouldn’t need to be shortened.

    The awful RAH extended ending to Model of Decorum is kept here. The perfect form of the song is ruined by this, with no dramatic benefit.

    Merging the end of Pity The Child with the continuing action robs it of its emotional power. The band needs to build more gradually in this song – the first drum entry is too strong.

    Anthem needs to be set up more clearly. Most people probably think he is singing about leaving a woman rather than his country. Daniel sings very well but the tempo is too quick ? it needs to be grand and broad. And shame on the Musical Director for letting Daniel Koek go up a fifth on the last note ? an x-factor-type trick that cheapens the song. (Shona White goes up a third at the end of her version in the second act ? even worse!). If only he know that there is nothing more exciting for an audience than a single long held note, which is as it should be.

    No time to dissect Act 2, but I will say that to reduce the beautiful You and I to just one verse and chorus is a crime!

    My main problem with the production is that the actor/musician gimmick is a pointless and counter-productive compromise. To put on a great show you need the best musicians, the best dancers and the best singers all doing what they do best. This could never happen when you try to find the same people to do everything. And you end up with a cluttered stage with huge staging restrictions to boot. Seeing the musicians on the stage serves absolutely no purpose.

    I cannot agree that this is the definitive version. Compare it to the Swedish version which is so much more sophisticated, but still not perfect. Why doesn?t some director take that as their starting point? I?d love to see the tank scene and the acrobats (with their beautiful accompanying music) in an intelligent, well-thought out English production of the musical.

  • I do wonder if any director will ever be allowed to make this show work!!! Tim Rice seems unwilling to listen to a director (not GRH, he is not the person to do it) but a director who actually cares about story! The so called RAH rewrite was little more than a few lyrical changes!

    Ian I agree with just about everything you said in your post. I would actually keep Merchandisers and Hymn as I love the vocals on these two, but by all means yes PLEASE start the story at the beginning of the show, not half way through Act One, this has always been a problem and when the problems with the book are made more obvious by the production, rather than improved or fixed the show becomes what some reviewers have called it – pointless.

    I actually LOVED the musicians on the stage etc, in fact it is this aspect of the show that makes it work for me, because I loved watching them play their instruments etc. If this same production had been done with a pit band, I would have been left very cold by the whole thing I think, but as it is I like much about the production, though I feel very ‘disappointed’ by many failings in the story telling and dramatic direction.

    Still, I would and will watch it again somewhere around the country :o)

    And finally would ANYBODY learn anything from listening to Idina sing on the Chess CD other than how NOT to do it!!! By the way what is the mistake she makes?

  • >And finally would ANYBODY learn anything from listening to Idina sing on >the Chess CD other than how NOT to do it!!! By the way what is the mistake >she makes?

    In Press Conference she screws up at 2:24 – gets the rhythm wrong. To be fair it’s a scary moment musically for Florence as the band plays off-beat stabs and the journalists are off on their single note ranting counterpoint. I was pretty sure Shona did the same wrong rhythm at the same point. There are not many recordings she could go to for this number so I reckon she learnt it from Idina..

  • Idena Menzels Character acting is very good in Chess in concert, she puts over a certain personality, even if her twangy American singing voice isn?t everyone cup of tea ,over all the singing in the new touring version is better, apart from Kerry Ellis and David Bedella in Chess in concert who cant not be bettered, I like both versions.

    When the promotional video for the American signature theatre production came out I thought the staging looked good , but the video for the new UK touring production blows it out the water
    and is the winner by far.

    I would love it if they made a full DVD of this sumptuous and incredible production.

  • Having been a fan of Chess since it’s original Premier all those years ago, I made a real effort to go in with an open mind and I was prepared for this to be a hugely different producion, which it is. But I’m afraid I found the instrumentalists/Chess Pieces extremely distracting most of the time. It was great when they were positioned each side of the Chess board whilst the main action was carried out, but other times they just got in the way and to be honest when they trooped on again in the second half I was sick of the sight of them!

    One time the Chess Pieces could’ve been put to good use would have been in Endgame, as in the original show, when they all moved forward and closed in on Anatoly to symbolise the pressure coming at him from all directions: here this didn’t happen and I really missed that drama.

    And I wish Mr Revel-Horwood hadn’t sexed it up quite so much; for me, the short section of You and I sung in Anatoly’s room was totally ruined by Florence and Anatoly frolicing around the bedroom virtually ripping each others clothes off, which totally distracts from and changes the emphasis of the music.

    The story seems even more confusing now (if that’s possible!) due to the lack of scenery – there’s only so much you can do with clever lighting and I think if you didn’t know the story it would be pretty hard to follow. Getting the Chess Pieces to sing Embassy Lament and having the Chess Pieces wandering around the mountain with Anatoly and Florence during Mountain Duet just confuses things even more as far as I’m concerned. Certainly, none of the people sitting around me had a clue what was going on because I was lugging into their conversations at the interval!

    That said, I thought the music was fantastic and it’s great to have this show given a new lease of life. But I’m so glad I was around to see it first time round because in my opinion nothing will ever top it either in terms of production or performers!

  • I saw this show last night and really want to rave about how much I enjoyed it. Amazingly camp, very different and great songs of course.

    I went into this show knowing nothing about it… except that Chess was involved somehow! Everyone that’s saying it might be difficult to follow the story, it’s really not.

    Differently to everyone else here it seems, I mainly liked the chess pieces and not the other characters. Possibly that’s from not having any pre-knowledge of the older versions.

    I will probably be seeing this again, and I really hope it makes it to the West End.

  • Having seen several productions of Chess I was very disapointed with this show I saw in Nottingham. Songs had been dropped,or moved. In many instances the lead characters had to sing their songs sitting down, why? That may be ok for those in the circle but not so good for the stalls. What on earth was all that raunchy stuff about, was it a case of CRH doing what HE likes best? He had his opportunity to do raunchy with ‘Bangkok’ but you were hard put to recognise that the show opens in Merano, in fact the person I was with wasn’t aware of that! Whilst there were some excellent performances from some of the leads I thought this was an opportunity lost.

  • Saw the opening night in Norwich last evening. Chess has always been one of my favourites, having appeared in a production of it back in the 90s. What a disappointment – not only the fact that it all appeared to be the Village People sponsored by Anne Summers but more offensively, the general lack of musicality. Shona White has a belting chest voice but didn’t seem able to connect with her head voice which lost all power. More light and shade needed in her singing; shouting does not compensate for lack of dynaimcs!
    Both male leads were glorious and Svetlana’s “Someone Else’s Story” was competently sang, but again, lacked phrasing.

    All in all, vaguely disappointing: too much shouting, too little singing and generally too weird for its own good.

    Ho hum, Such a wasted opportunity.

  • Having read the reviews I will skip this version when it comes to Dublin. I saw the original in the west end and thouroughly enjoyed it although it was mainly the because of the score. The touring version that followed was dissapointing mainly due to alot of the comments I see above. So really what has changed? I admire Revels courage in trying a new approach. But it seems to me that the original story is now too much “of its time” if not fundamentally flawed. I will continue to listwn to the original album but that will be it.

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