Paul Ashley

Enjoyed The Queen’s Gambit? Did it make you develop a complex about why you didn’t become a chess prodigy at age eight? Well, just remove the drugs, sex and actual chess, add three hours of singing and you’ve got Chess, the musical at the ADC theatre!

Featuring scores from ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and the serene setting of the height of the Cold War, there’s a lot going on. Freddie, the American Grandmaster (Ben Mulley), and Anatoly, the Russian champion (Jude Ashcroft), are chess rivals. But quickly the production spirals into much more. With love triangles between these two and Florence (Neve Kennedy), and political clashes, the game of chess falls to the back of this musical.

At times the plot is near impossible to follow. The structure of the show is slightly jarring, with upbeat dance numbers abruptly interrupted by ballads which all sound alarmingly similar. Nevertheless, the highlights were so high that the slower parts of the scripts can be forgiven.

“Effervescent charisma packaged in a sequined blazer”

As an ex-theatre kid, heading down to the ADC to endure three hours of non-stop singing doesn’t frighten me. However, it may be your worst nightmare. Hayley Canham’s production of Chess brings together the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society in a flashy display of talent. How the cast learnt all those words with the academic rigour of Cambridge is beyond me, but somehow they didn’t mess up a single line. And while the headlights nearly blinded me approximately twelve times, my ears were thankfully safe.

Neve Kennedy’s performance was breathtaking, with vocals that elevated the musical to bordering West End quality. Yet, she does not overshadow Ben Mulley, who has an equally powerful voice. Coming on stage with a brown leather jacket and a ’Dancing Through Life’ energy, he blew everyone away with passionate belts. Jude Ashcroft also matched these two, with a rich and resonant tone able to echo through the ADC.

Tom Hayes particularly stole the show as the Arbiter. Excellent comedic timing paired with effervescent charisma was packaged nicely in a sequined blazer. His animated number was followed by deafening applause. The whole cast is a collection of at least double (if not triple) threat actors, with no obvious weak links. Thus, the blunders in the script and staging are disguised by their talent.


Mountain View

The Cambridge Greek Play: the spectrum of human experience is on display

And trust me, there were some blunders. Perhaps it was opening night nerves, but technical difficulties were flying left, right and centre. When the microphones were working, it was when the actors had already gone off stage. The creaking sound of backstage chairs and steps were off-putting enough to distract the audience from the scene unfolding.

The set design is simple yet effective – the elevated platforms resembled a chess board, providing dynamic arrangements for the cast. With minimal props and chess tables lowered from the ceiling, there was not a lot going on. However, the cast were vibrant enough to fill the stage, with sufficient costuming and spirited energy.

So if you are not normally a fan of student theatre, this is the production I urge you to see. Minus the random ballet sequences and technical difficulties, the cast put on an A-class performance and made the three hours worth it.