Theatre / Review

All you need to know about Chess

The legendary musical returns to the West End for its first major revival in over 30 years.

Chess hasn’t been seen in the West End since 1986, but it has now returned to London with a stunning new production at the iconic Coliseum.

Starring the legendary Michael Ball, Strictly Come Dancing finalist Alexandra Burke, Mike + the Mechanics co-frontman Tim Howar, West End leading lady Cassidy Janson and rising star Cedric Neal, Chess tells a classic story of love and political intrigue, set against the background of the Cold War in the late ’70s and early ’80s, in which superpowers attempt to manipulate an international chess championship for political ends.

Written by ABBA songwriters Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus alongside Tim Rice in 1984, this epic musical love story runs for a limited five-week engagement.


What is Chess about?

Chess’ iconic story pits two of the world’s greatest chess masters – one American, one Russian – against each other in a battle of wits and intrigue as their governments begin to manipulate the word championships for their own gain.

Their lives are complicated further by the arrival of a Hungarian-boon refugee, who becomes the centre of an emotional love triangle.

Their passion for the woman – and the contest – is mirrored by the political struggles that threaten to destroy the worlds they’ve built.

Featuring songs such as I Know Him So Well, One Night In Bangkok, Anthem, Someone Else’s Story, Heaven Help my Heart and Pity The Child, Chess is an iconic musical whose return to the West End is sure to be greeted with huge excitement for fans new and old.


Who stars in Chess?

As with previous collaborations between Michael Linnit and Michael Grade and the English National Opera, this new production of Chess is welcoming a bevy of stars to it’s roster for the limited run.

Heading up the cast are West End legend Michael Ball as Anatoly, while Tim Howar stars as Freddie. Taking on the iconic roles of Svetlana and Florence – made famous in the original cast by international stars Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson – are Alexandra Burke and Cassidy Janson.

Burke was last seen in the West End starring as Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard; while Janson recently played the role of singer-songwriter Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

Cedric Neal, fresh from his debut role as Berry Gordy in Motown the Musical, joins the cast as The Arbiter.


What can audiences expect?

This new production of Chess goes a long way to recapture the magic of the original, which in the years since it was first produced has been rewritten and re-evaluated countless times.

In this semi-staged version, the concert aspect of Chess feels front and centre. The orchestra are on stage throughout, housed in a box above the action on stage, as if they’re looking down on the drama playing out on both the gameboard and in the lives of the four main characters – and there can be no denying that they sound fantastic.  Anderson, Ulvaeus and Rice’s timeless songs are a testament to their songwriting prowess: Chess is simply laced with huge hitters in terms of musical theatre greatness.

Nobody’s Side – expertly delivered by Janson – is an earworm that is sure to continue ringing for days on end, while other iconic numbers such as Anthem and I Know Him So Well are on fine form in the capable hands of Ball, Janson and Burke respectively.

Burke is especially good. No mean feat given she’s barely on stage as Svetlana, who feels more like a pawn in Anatoly’s game than a fully rounded character. Her version of Somebody Else’s Story near the end of act one is a particular highlight.

Elsewhere, the staging feels dynamic and boundary pushing, using huge screens at the side of the stage to project scenery or close-ups of the stars throughout. This gives the show an almost filmic quality and cleverly allows the action to filter between locations as far flung as Russia, Italy and Bangkok with ease.

The shifting, chessboard tiles of the floor push the action forward as scenes appear before your eyes and disappear into darkness, and the way the small squares light up in neon colours to frame scenes or characters feels distinctly retro and ’80s – which further adds to the nostalgic punch this production aims to deliver.


What are the critics saying?

“…a spine-tingling triumph” – Daily Express

“…a largely (grand)masterful revival of a show with an indelible place in musical theatre history” – Broadway World

“…some serious star power… I know I’ll be going back again” – LondonTheatre

“…a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, and the production does it great justice” – The UpComing


What else do I need to know?

Chess the Musical is open now at the London Coliseum, booking until 2 June 2018.


Tickets are available now through Ticketmaster.co.uk.

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