Review: Chess, London Coliseum

Nobody’s on nobody’s side – an all-star cast can’t save this game of Chess from itself, for me at least

“From square one I’ll be watching all sixty-four”

It’s taken over 30 years for Chess to return to the West End (though it was seen at the Union in 2013) and though it has a huge amount of resource thrown at it in Laurence Connor’s production for English National Opera, it doesn’t necessarily feel worth the wait. An 80’s mega-musical through and through with an intermittently cracking score from ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Richard Nelson’s book hasn’t aged particularly well and bears the hallmarks of the  substantial tinkering it has had at every opportunity.

It’s not too hard to see why it has needed the tinkering. The mix of Cold War politics told through the prism of rival US and Soviet chess Grandmasters, love triangles and power ballads is a tricky one to get right and part of the problem seems to be just how seriously to take it all. On the one hand, the chess matches are backgrounded with montages of the real-life tensions of the 80s; on the other, scenes that take us through the various locations of the tournaments are a cringeworthy riot of cultural stereotyping that revel in their utter kitsch. Continue reading “Review: Chess, London Coliseum”

Review: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Wilton’s Music Hall

“If they choose to, the company may dump any man”

The historic walls of Wilton’s Music Hall – the last surviving grand music hall in the world – may be old but they are far from old-fashioned. After their major refurb, the shift into becoming a producing venue has seen them adopt a varied multi-disciplinary programme of comedy and music as well as theatre (look out for the Tobacco Factory’s highly-rated Othello coming soon).

Sadly, their current revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – the first major one in this country since its 1963 premiere – falls on the side of the fatally old-fashioned. Director Benji Sperring’s sure touch has seen him work wonders with shows like The Toxic Avenger but here, an inconsistency of tone and performance level means that it sits awkwardly on this august stage. Continue reading “Review: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Wilton’s Music Hall”

Review: A Man of No Importance, Salisbury Playhouse

“A good sinner can get into a lot of mischief in a week”

Much like its central character, the charms of A Man of No Importance are gentle and delicate and these remain the watchwords for Gareth Machin’s actor/musician production of this musical for Salisbury Playhouse. Based on a 1994 film and set in early 1960s Dublin, Alfie Byrne is an unassuming bus conductor whose main passion in life is directing his local am-dram society at St Imelda’s. But even that has stagnated with endless runs of The Importance of Being Earnest leaching his creativity so he makes the decision to stage the much more controversial Salome, also by Oscar Wilde, unaware of the tumultuous course of action it will unleash for all concerned.

For the weight of the Catholic Church’s disapproval is a heavy load to bear and as the production is condemned for its blasphemy after local busybodies go running to the monsignor, a light has been shone under the genteel façade of this community and exposed homosexual longings, extramarital affairs and illegitimate pregnancies. Alfie is at the centre of it all as it is his secret `desire for his handsome younger workmate Robbie that precipitates the most seismic change but even as he feels his whole world changing from underneath him, surprises lie in store all along the way. Continue reading “Review: A Man of No Importance, Salisbury Playhouse”