Directed by Nikki Mundell-Poole, Musical Director Stephen Kenna
Performed at the Witham Public Hall – 29th April 2010
Set against a cold war background with an intricate story line Chess first played for three years in the West End in 1986 and in 1988 premiered on Broadway.
A very demanding show for a company which requires some very strong voices to take the principal leads, Witham were blessed with some outstanding voices to play the male leads singing extremes of range from almost Falsetto to Double Bass. All the principal men did justice to their roles and we had some fine singing from John Escott as Freddie Trumper, David Slater as Anatoly Sergievsky, Stewart Adkins as Alexander Molotov, Tom Whelan as The Arbitor and Tim Sheppard as Walter de Courcey.
I was totally convinced by the characters they portrayed with a variety of styles, all very different and interesting. The principal ladies consisted of Florence Vassy played by Jenni Leggett and Svetlana Sergievsky played by Kathryn Adkins. Their duet “I know him so well” was excellent, and both gave great performances. The four part singing, some of it in a Russian style was balanced beautifully.
Every show has highlights and I particularly liked “Pity the Child” sung so well by Freddie, the moving “Anthem” sung with great feeling by Anatoly, and the super “The Soviet Machine” sung by Molotov and Chorus.
The overall feel of this show was of a very high standard and the best “Chess” I have seen for some time. The inclusion of the three screens displaying events relating to the chess tournament, the TV coverage and the like worked very well and was informative and interesting. The publicity for local traders on the screen during the interval was a good marketing idea.
The set was very well designed with the crew working well, moving sets in a way which did not interrupt some very tense moments. The costumes all fitted well and looked very elegant.
The pit singers added to the overall singing on this show, and the Orchestra under Stephen Kenna was really supportive with a demanding score and many changes of style. Stephen kept a good pace throughout.
Nikki Mundell-Poole should be extremely pleased with this production and must have worked so hard to produce one of the best shows I have seen at Witham.
Many congratulations. This felt very much like a real company effort which came across as such to the audience. I wish the society well with forthcoming productions.
On the face of it, chess is up there with fishing and dominoes as a likely subject for a dramatic musical. The number of people on the streets of Witham who could name the current world champion would probably fit into a telephone box.
But it was not always that way. In the early 1970s, chess made the front pages. And if you bad asked anyone in the street then to name a chess player, they would almost certainly have come up with Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky.
It was the match between the two, and particularly the eccentric behaviour of the American challenger, that fired the public’s imagination and gave Tim Rice the idea for this musical.
His lyrics were brought to life by the sparkling choreography of Nikki Mundell-Poole. The evening opened and closed with the stage bathed in the black and white of the chessboard but, in between, the Tyrolean and Bangkok settings allowed for a wide spread of colours in the ensemble numbers.
A newcomer, a regular and a returner took the three main roles of the two chess players and the manager of one, who falls in love with the other. John Escott, David Slater and Jenni Leggett brought drama and pathos to the roles and coped superbly with Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus’s exceedingly challenging musica1 score. Kathryn and Stewart Adkins brought their usual polished performances to the ro1es of Slater’s wife and his KGB handler, while Tim Sheppard, in his 53rd year with WAOS, and Tom Whelan stepped out of the shadows with aplomb as the American marketing guru and the arbiter.
At the other end of the age scale, the show offered opportunities to a number of the society’s younger members.
Ingenious use was also made of three giant screens, a first for the company, which show some of the action and background.
However, the complicated story, not helped by the fact that much of it is told by the chorus, and the dearth of well-known numbers led to more empty seats than is usual at a WAOS production. That was a shame as this was a high-standard evening that deserved better support
Review by Ron Fosker