Review: Chess the musical. National Youth Music Theatre. Curve

Chess the musical

National Youth Music Theatre

10-13 August 2022

Curve Leicester (Studio)

Andrew Exeter’s set and lighting design used for National Youth Music Theatre’s production of Chess the musical is a most striking Brutalist architecture inspired forum of grey steps topped off with a selection of huge and foreboding concrete looking (Soviet?) blocks looming overhead. The whole structure screams crushing and uncaring domination. It’s very striking and certainly shows how this acclaimed youth company like to move along, sing and dance a very different path from the expected.

The second thing to admire is the quality of the NYMT choral and group singing of which Chess has many opportunities with its story of individual and patriotic ambitions through a game that came about historically as a sophisticated way of dealing with warring factions.  It is a large group of talented young performers who sing some of the choral highlights including “The Story of Chess”, “Merano”, “Embassy Lament” and “One Night In Bangkok”.

One might be forgiven to think that the violence and boxing element from Billy Elliot playing next door in the main house has somehow leaked into this production as Adam Haigh’s choreography is replete with aggressive movement especially evident as the cast take on the roles of the chess pieces being manipulated in a taut World Chess Championship between an arrogant and determined female Freddie Trumper (Lois Mia Chapman) and her, less showy, more cerebrally intense opponent Anatoly Sergievsky (AJ Parsons).

Benny Andersson, Tim Rice and Björn Ulvaeus’s Chess has a musical catalogue of solos and duets that whisk one right back to the 1980s when the musical was a hit on the West End Stage and spawned half a dozen hit singles from “I Know Him So Well”, “Pity The Child”, “Heaven Help My Heart”, “Anthem”, and the heavily percussive “One Night In Bangkok”. All excite in this sterling and stirring NYMT production with particular acted and vocal highlights from Tilly Ducker as Florence Vasey, AJ Parsons as Sergievsky, Lois Mia Chapman as Freddie Trumper and Naomi Leigh as late-to-the-game Svetlana Serievska.

Georgie Lagden gives us a very cool and vocally clear Arbiter and Spike Maxwell drums up the Soviet threat as Alexander Molokov. The main ensemble are impressively large in number. Always focussed, the ensemble add considerably with their talents to this most excellent production. Alex Sutton’s fine direction means that the whole stage and its levels are utilised throughout offering the audience plenty of unique and memorable visual  stagings telling the politically complex story of Chess the musical.

Of course, a musical wouldn’t be a musical without – oh what’s it called? It’s on the tip of my oboe. Music! Hidden behind the scenes are musical director Jordan Li-Smith’s outstanding note perfect twenty-five musician strong band. The quality of their playing and the sound balance between backstage and the acting spaces is very professionally done.

The performance dates are very nearly sold out this week. But if you are either one of the lucky ones who have seats already booked or someone interested in booking and manage to get in to the Curve 300 seater Studio space for Chess the musical you won’t have made a wrong move in thoroughly enjoying this inventive winner of a production.  One day some of these young NYMT talents may be gracing the professional stage and screen. Casting directors – your move.

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