Review: Chess at the London Coliseum




When I first heard about the musical Chess, I assumed it was some kind of figurative title but nope, it’s a musical about playing chess. And also about politics and fame and romance. The game becomes a metaphor for them all in the shadow of an international chess game between an American and a Russian during the Cold War.

Plot wise, there’s not much there. Two games of chess and an affair somehow fill the entire duration of the show and it perhaps becomes easy to see why Chess hasn’t seen a West End revival since its original run over thirty years ago. It seems incredibly difficult to market to attract new audiences, because who wants to see a musical about chess? Once you’re in your seat and watching, however, it’s a well-produced production. The set is gorgeous, reminiscent of a huge chessboard, and the minimalistic design helps drive home those aforementioned metaphors – everyone is just a piece on a chessboard. Projections are all the range nowadays and this show doesn’t escape the trend. They’re nicely done, however, providing context on the cold war without too much dull expositionary dialogue.

The production is definitely well cast, singing their solos beautifully, but I can’t say any of the melodies stuck with me, and that’s always a benchmark for me of how good a musical is. A few of the chorus numbers were difficult to understand if you didn’t already know the words, which could have been down to the song itself or to audio problems. The one moment that specifically sticks out in my memory is when the love duet reminded me so strongly of a song from Mamma Mia. About five minutes later, I remembered that Chess is written by two of the members of ABBA. So keep an ear out for that if you want a giggle half way through act two.

In the nicest possible way, this show probably wouldn’t be able to stand on its own two feet. It’s relying on its status as an iconic musical theatre show from the 80s, and on its slightly stunt-casted company. If it opened today as a new musical with an unknown cast, I don’t think it would get far (but then again, how many new British musicals do these days), but if you’re a theatre fan and you want to tick off Chess as a show you’ve seen, then it’s a nicely done production worth getting a cheapish ticket for.

Chess plays at the London Coliseum until June 2nd