Centred around the World Chess Championships in the 1980’s, “Chess” sees the Cold War rivalry between the USA and the Soviet Union played out in full musical splendour. With an epic score written by Tim Rice, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (ABBA), “Chess” was a challenging yet ultimately marvellous success for PMOS. With the hits “One Night in Bangkok” and “I Know Him So Well”, the cold war tension is seamlessly mixed with the story of an international love triangle.
Chess: A Review – Having seen “Chess” at the King’s twice this week, I have to say that it was as good a production as some “professional” companies have produced.There was not one weak member of cast and the choreography was exceptional – for an amateur company.
Having followed PMOS productions for a number of years, I have to say that this was the best. Every member of the cast was totally professional with some outstanding performances from the lead males and female. Vincent Clarke (Anatoly Sergievsky) – who bore an uncanny resemblance to Vincent Van Gogh – was superb in his portrayal of the Russian Grandmaster. His rendition of “Anthem” had the whole audience spellbound. Jocelyn Nelson (Florence Vassy) carried off a virtually impeccable performance as the American Champion’s Second. Her total commitment to the part was evident throughout the performance and she never varied from playing her character for even one second. Her intense acting and tremendous range of voice resulted in a spell-binding performance that had the audience glued to their seats at the finale. Darren Jones (Frederick Trumper) gave an upbeat and very Cat Stevens-like performance as the American Grandmaster showing tremendous range in his voice.
The main point, for me, was the total commitment of the whole cast and the degree to which every member played their part. Based on this performance I cannot wait to see their next production and I can only hope that Ms. Nelson and Messrs. Clarke and Jones remain with the Company for the duration.” Review by Happyprof, glasgowwestend.co.uk, April, 2009
The action takes place in and around the arenas of the World Chess Championships in Merano, Italy and one year later in Bangkok, Thailand.
It is the Cold War era of the early 1980’s.
The head of the International Federation explains the history of “Chess” as the worlds gaze focuses on the northern Italian town of “Merano” where Frederick Trumper, the American chess champion will be playing a world championship match against Anatoly Sergievsky, the Russian. While the townsfolk prepare for the occasion, the brash Freddie arrives with his Hungarian-English Chess second, Florence Vassey. Later in his hotel suite Florence explains to Freddie that the press will portray him negatively if he continues with his bad boy attitude – just before he heads off to do a press conference where he attacks a journalist who questions his relationship with Miss Vassey. Freddie blames the “Commie Newspapers” for spreading lies and leaves Florence to pick up the pieces with the press.
Anatoly and his chess second Alexander Molokov (who is actually a KGB agent) watch the press conference on TV with curiosity and distain before Anatoly reflects on who he has become with the song “Where I Want to Be“. The opening ceremony features “The Arbiter” insisting on the rules of the game, US and Soviet diplomats vowing that their side will win and “Merchandisers” looking to make a fast buck. During the chess match, Freddie believes the Russians are tamporing with the game and storms off, leaving Florence to pick up the pieces and justify his behaviour.
Florence and Molokov agree to bring their representative champions together for a meeting to find a resolution in order for the match to continue. It turns out that Freddie engineered the stunt to get a higher price from the TV company. When Florence learns this, they argue and she loses her temper with Freddie when he brings her father (believed captured by the Russians during the 1956 Budapest uprising) into the argument. Florence is left alone to lament over their situation, culminating in the rousing “Nobody’s Side“.Florence and Anatoly arrive on time at the Merano Mountain Inn for the meeting but there seems to be no sign of Freddie. After a brief akward exchange, they find themselves drawn to each other. Eventually they embrace in a “Mountain Duet“, before being interupted by Freddie who has been negotiating new financial terms.
After the next chess game, Florence leaves Freddie – one too many of his childish self-centred tantrums are too much for her to deal with. Her decision shatters Freddie and he resigns, making Anatoly the new World Champion. Florence goes with Anatoly to the British Embassy where he attempts to seek exile in the west. After an “Embassy lament” by the diplomats, Anatoly is granted exile and Florence goes with Anatoly after a heart-wrenching “Heaven Help My Heart“. However Walter de Courcy (Head of the American Delegation) has his own plans and has tipped off the media who ambush the pair at Merano station. Anatoly tells the reporters that “his land’s only border lies around his heart” in the final rousing number “Anthem“.
A year later we open with “One Night in Bangkok” this year’s venue for the World Chess Championships. Anatoly is set to defend his title, with Freddie already there as a television presenter reporting on the championships. Florence and Anatoly are now lovers and worry about the situation in “You and I“, especially the impending arrival of his wife Svetlana from Russia. Molokov has trained a new protégé, Viigand, to challenge Anatoly, believing the “Soviet Machine” will triumph over Anatoly. He is also spying on the opposing pair and toasts the day when Russia will again be victorious.
Walter manipulates Freddie into rattling Anatoly on live TV by introducing his wife into the studio. Svetlanan contemplates her relationship with Anatoly in “Someone Else’s Story”, and Molokov blackmails her into making him lose thematch. Walter de Courcey informs Florence that her father is still alive in Russia and will be released if Anatoly loses. Neither of their ploys work so Molokov and De Courcey attempt to get Freddie to convince Anatoly to forfeit the match. Freddie feeling sorry for his lot in this all . Meanwhile Svetlana and florence both reflect on their relationship with Anatoly in the iconic “I Know Him So Well“.
In the deciding “Endgame” match Anatoly manages an exceptional victory and realizes that it may be the only success he can achieve. Svetlana castigates him for wallowing in the crowd’s empty praise whilst Florence is similarly annoyed with him for casting aside his moral ideals. Later he and Florence reflect on their story in “You And I“, which once seemed so promising and how they might go on pretending. Florence is left alone when Walter informs her that Anatoly has defected back to Russia, meaning that her father will be released, that is, if he is actually still alive.
She breaks down, telling Walter that he is using people’s lives for nothing, before repeating Anatoly’s sentiments that “her only borders lie around her heart”