Review: Chess


Chess – London Coliseum until 2nd June


Review By Caroline Hanks-Farmer

Last seen in the West End in 1986, Chess, has finally returned for a five-week run at London’s prestigious Coliseum. Written in 1984 by ABBA songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and Tim Rice, Chess is now in one of the largest theatres in London. This space commands a big production and this is exactly what you get here.


Two of the world’s greatest chess masters, one American, one Russian, are in danger of becoming the pawns of their governments as their battle for the world title gets under way. Simultaneously their lives are thrown into further confusion by a Hungarian refugee, a remarkable woman who becomes the centre of their emotional triangle. This mirrors the heightened passions of the political struggles that threaten to destroy lives and loves. Includes well-known songs such as ‘I Know Him So Well’ and ‘One Night In Bangkok’. Other songs from the score include ‘Anthem’, ‘Someone Else’s Story’, ‘Heaven Help my Heart’ and ‘Pity The Child’.


With the subject matter laid out above you may question as to how you can make this into an interesting evening out. It’s quite simple really, hire some huge headlining stars, a phenomenal orchestra, an imaginative aesthetically pleasing set and innovative choreography.

Michael Ball is of course a musical theatre legend and I’ve seen him many times over the years take on various roles. I’ve always applauded his immense talent, but on seeing Chess I found him to be even more engaging than ever before. There are times when he was alone on the stage with the huge orchestra. Not swamped, his powerful voice effortlessly filled the vast space. My respect and awe was once again renewed for Mr Ball.

Playing opposite was Cassidy Janson, her vocals stunning and acting showed a real depth. Reaffirming my regret that I’ve previously missed her other productions I will be certainly looking for her name in cast listings in future. The arrogant American, Freddie, played by Tim Howar, certainly made an entrance, and every moment he spent on the stage saw his charisma and talent shine. Howar, definitely provided us with one of the stand-out performances of the night.

My biggest surprise of the evening was Alexandra Burke, whose strong performance equally matched her esteemed co-stars.

Other noteworthy performances Cedric Neal, Phillip Brown and I’d dearly love to name check every single ensemble member for their tremendous vocals throughout.

It must be acknowledged that the, on stage stupendous orchestra, conducted by John Rigby, took you on an emotional journey. The soaring music lifted you up and gently dropped you down, it really was a blissful delight. I mentioned the set design earlier which was interesting and engaging. At points there were moments where the large video screens were out of sync and I would have preferred a little less video at times so that I could concentrate on the real action, rather than being drawn to the screen, but that’s just personal preference. The old adage of less is more maybe?

Choreography by Stephen Mear is once again a delight, particularly impressive with such a large space and cast.

In Summary

Personally I found this production to be breathtakingly stunning, its beauty and yet simplicity allowed the audience to enjoy the sublime orchestration and performances. It really is a beautiful visual delight, which shouldn’t be missed in this short five-week run.

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