After a two year hiatus and many attempts to reschedule it was wonderful to see Durham Musical Theatre Company (DMTC) finally get the chance to stage Chess.

Chess with music by Abba’s Benny Anderson & Bjorn Ulvaeus and lyrics by Tim Rice is set during the height of the Cold War.

The story follows two Chess Grandmasters, Frederick Trumper the loud, brash, arrogant contestant from the USA (Steven Berry) and Russian, Anatoly Sergievsky a family man (Graeme Walton), as they battle to be world champions under the watchful eye of The Arbiter (Michael Taphouse).

The Northern Echo:

There are three themes throughout the show; the animosity, suspicion and political intrigue between the Soviet Union and the West during the Cold War, the game itself between Trumper and Sergievsky, and the love affair which develops between Trumper’s Hungarian-born girl-friend Florence (Pascalle Rossle) and the Russian. As tensions rise between the two players, tempers flare and life-changing decisions are made.

Read more: Durham Musical Company stages Chess at Gala Theatre

It can be a notoriously difficult storyline to follow but under the direction of Fred Wharton, DMTC made the story relevant and clear. The set was excellent and the varied levels used to advantage when staging the choir accompanied chess matches, the many scene changes were swift.

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The use of projections throughout supported the narrative and steered the audience through the many changes in location and the lighting plot also created the necessary atmosphere and complimented the staging.

Pascalle Rossle gave a superb performance as Florence Vasey, her vocal performances were flawless. As Trumper, Steven Berry had some outstanding rock elements to his songs but also delivered an emotional performance during his rendition of “Pity the Child”.

The more classical style numbers for Sergievsky suited Graeme Walton and his rendition of “Anthem” was both powerful and poignant. The second act introduces Swetlana Sergievesky and she played with compassion by Katy Walton, she provided the perfect contrast to the confident Florence.The Northern Echo:

Katy’s vocal performances were also of a high standard and together with Pascalle they delivered the well-known “I Know Him so Well” perfectly. The characters managing the whole situation in the background were Alexander Molovov played by Anthony Smith and Walter de Courcey played by Ed Turner. Both of these performers gave first class interpretations of these very different characters who both ultimately had the same aim.

Michael Taphouse as the Arbiter was the perfect antidote to the stuffiness of the Chess game, his vocals were good and he had the added advantage of excellent dance skills which were showcased in his performance.

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All other minor roles were played very well, not a weak link, giving excellent support to the principal cast. The chorus ensemble did extremely well with the difficult score, the overall sound was superb.

The 13-piece orchestra were under the baton of musical director Malcolm Moffatt, the sound was first class and worthy of any professional production. Choreography requirements for this show are not to be underestimated, they include traditional folk dance, ballet for the chess games as well as modern dance, and all were well executed by both dancers and ensemble under the direction of Kathleen Knox. The ballet sequences were all beautiful to watch and I particularly enjoyed the “The Soviet Machine”.

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As an encore the Company sang “Anthem” with the Ukrainian flag behind them, this was a very moving tribute and a reminder that some of the political undertones raised in the show have not changed since the 70s.

Congratulations to Fred, Malcolm, Kathleen and their production team for putting together an excellent production.

Michelle Coulson

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