Sunday, June 23

Chess – Empire Theatre

Chess is a musical with so much to talk about, a fantastic score, with beautifully textured orchestral and vocal writing. It has some of the most difficult roles and arias in all of musical theatre, and a concept full of incredible depth.

The Chess world championships act as only the top layer of this dynamic narrative, with the Cold War, East/West relations, and hierarchy in society acting as the underpinning concepts. The narrative of ‘Chess’ is often convoluted, difficult to understand and a bit dull, but this production should be noted for providing lots of clarity on this, and the narrative drove forward right throughout.

The first thing to say about this performance is that the vocal performances of the principal cast were sublime – truly of tip top professional quality. The three principal roles of Florence (Ellie Norton), Anatoly (Will Callan) and Freddie (Alex Hayden) each offered commanding and mature vocal performances in these roles – there is no denying the complexity and difficulty of all these roles and they were delivered beautifully. Norton in particular presented a developed, layered character to this vocal performance, and gave us a show-stopping rendition of ‘Nobody’s side’. Norton’s performance was the highlight of the production – a real superstar, who could easily be seen on any professional stage.

📷 Photo Credit: Phil Tragen

Special mention to Rubin Cavanagh in the role of Alexander Molokov, which takes presence, maturity and a calmness which was delivered beautifully – there was something truly mesmerising about this performance.

The orchestra, conducted by Paul Lawton, were sublime. Chess is a riveting score, and Lawton and his team did a fabulous job. The sound balance was really very strong – great work from the sound team. The ensemble singing had some weak onsetting in places, and at times it felt slightly behind the beat – but Chess is such a tricky score, and the ambition of choosing a show with such a difficult score should be applauded.

In general, the staging and choreography were interesting, and I felt that the director Natalie Flynn had been brave at times, measuring stillness and movement perfectly. Some of the traditional ‘rules’ of staging were broken – which made for a three dimensional piece and worked brilliantly. At times some of the movement was without clear intention, leaving us wondering why certain things were happening.

📷 Photo Credit: Phil Tragen

If you have seen ‘Chess’ before, this production offers nothing ground-breaking. It utilises movement to symbolise the chess games, steel decking in the shape of a mountain, black and white costumes, and uses only symbolic props and accessories, all as standard with countless previous productions – however the performances and score still warrant the trip to the Empire.

‘Chess’ is a show that deserves to be seen, and this production is no exception – the show was enjoyable, and entertaining, all while feature some truly awesome young talent. A perfect way to spend an evening.

Thank you to the Liverpool Empire for their hospitality, and to the cast of ‘Chess’ for a fantastic evening’s entertainment.

Reviewer: Andrew Lee

Reviewed: 13th August 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★