Saturday, 16 February 2013

Review: Chess at the Union Theatre

Union Theatre
Reviewed on Friday 15th February 2013 (Press Night)

"The story involves a romantic triangle between two players in a World Chess Championship, and a woman who manages one of them and falls in love with the other."

I find it baffling that this is the first time Chess has been fully staged in London since the original production which ran at the Prince Edward Theatre from 1986–1989. The music, by ABBA's Benny Andersson and Bj√∂rn Ulvaeus (lyrics by Tim Rice) is very distinctive. The score has moments of intensity and pure vulnerability and really digs deep inside each character. The story is quite strange for a musical but somehow it works. I would love to know how Tim Rice came up with the initial idea!

This revival takes many risks, the biggest one probably being that the Union Theatre is so tiny, but believe me... it works. The Union Theatre could not be more perfect for this production. The cast are literally at arms length. Christopher Howell and Steven Harris' direction is mind blowing. The most beautiful, unique visual images were created by the precise staging. This is something which can only be achieved in a theatre so small. I would love to go again and sit in a different seat because the whole experience would be so different, Chess provides a very personal experience.

The cast are out of this world. There are not words to describe Sarah Galbraith's performance as Florence Vassy. All I can say is that she is a star. Sarah has already had an amazing career but I predict a bright future. Natasha J. Barnes is the dark horse of the show. Just as I was becoming content she stepped into the spotlight to sing Someone Else's Story and completely blew me away. Together, Sarah Galbraith and Natasha J. Barnes give a stunning rendition of I Know Him So Well, one of the most iconic songs in musical theatre history.

Tim Oxbrow seemed to struggle vocally at times but his portrayal of Frederick Trumper was consistently passionate. Nadim Naaman was very good as Anatoly Sergievsky. His voice is sublime. The ensemble are strong, I particularly enjoyed moments where they were singing off stage and voices were coming from all over - the effect was incredible.

I don't think this production is completely perfect. I found a few moments confusing and at times it was hard to see what was going on. However, I arrived at the Union Theatre feeling tired and run down after a full on week reviewing a show each night. I left the Union Theatre on fire (metaphorically, of course). Chess filled me with so many emotions and completely changed the way I felt. It is a very powerful and unique piece of theatre, I am still buzzing. I lost myself in the music and completely fell in love with the show. Therefore I think five stars are thoroughly deserved.

Something about this production of Chess is very special but I can't quite work out what is is. Why don't you go and see it for yourself and see if you can put your finger on it?

The entire run of Chess is nearly sold out. You can look for tickets online ( but it's probably best to call the Box Office: 020 7261 9876. Book immediately to avoid disappointment.

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

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  1. Yay! A review which says all my thoughts!

    Congrats to all involved in this incredible show!!!!!!!!!

  2. So excited to see chess next week! Glad I booked early

  3. Congratulations Sarah Galbraith!
    From across the pond.

    Aunt Vera, Robby & Ellen