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Chess - National Youth Music Theatre Review

"He could be a star" is one of the lines from Billy Elliot which is currently playing on the main stage at Curve, in the studio that line runs ever truer as the stars of the future shine bright in National Youth Music Theatre's production of Chess.

Director Alex Sutton's precise production is embossed with a concrete feel with looming blocks hanging above the stage. Whilst Andrew Exeter's set is great it's his lighting work that quite literally shines. There's some great use of light sticks (if that's the right word for them) that add a real atmosphere and feel to the drama of the piece. 

The cast of Chess. Photo by Tom Wren

Using the ensemble to play out the Chess game sequences works brilliant and creates real excitement to the chess sequences that can be a little tedious. The choreographed movement by Adam Haigh is really clever and inventive especially in quite a tight place and with a large number of performers.

At the centre of the show, you have the USSR vs the USA in a political battle that plays out alongside the World Chess Championships. The egotistic self-assured Freddie Trumper here is gender-swapped and played by Lois Mia Chapman. Lois does a fine job of carrying the role especially as she unravels during 'Pity The Child', with heaps of emotion pouring out. Freddie's Russian opponent, Anatoly Sergievsky, is played by an excellently intense AJ Parsons. AJ shuns the Russian accent but commands a strong vocal, especially in the act one final number 'Anthem'.

Anatoly's wife Svetlana does only enter the piece mid-way through act two and that's the only downside as Naomi Leigh is really wonderful to watch in the role and offers a lovely rendition of 'Someone Else's Story'.

Georgie Lagden is vocally very assured as The Arbiter, she looms brilliantly on the side of the stage throughout. She has real authority despite the unraveling political battle going on. That political battle is drummed up by a strong Spike Maxwell as Alexander Molokov.

The outstanding Rosy Church as Florence surrounded by the company. Photo by Tom Wren

The stand-out performance comes from Rosy Church as Florence Vassy. Rosy carries the role with real skill and a vocal that could blow the roof of the Curve. Her astonishingly powerful version of 'Nobody's Side' gained an extended ovation that it richly deserved. Oliver Adams is terrific as Leonid Viigand, Oliver maintains a great Russian accent throughout and commands the stage with real authority.

Whilst the lead cast offer undeniable talent the whole cast are frankly brilliant. The vocals are tight, especially in the ensemble numbers where the chorus of voices blend together beautifully.

Chess features a whole cannon of superb musical numbers by Benny Andersson, Bj√∂rn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice which still carry an 80s feel but it feels as fresh as ever, especially when played by a 25-piece orchestra under musical director Jordan Li-Smith. At the bows, the lady next to me was in shock at how many there were, and where they'd been hiding. 

There were a few sound issues at the performance I attended, microphones not being turned on or cutting out mid-number but the cast didn't let this phase them and hopefully, at the final performances the technical issues are ironed out. 

Chess often gets re-invented and just over 10 days I saw the concert staging at London's Theatre Royal Drury Lane, but this NYMT is more than a rival for that version. Pumped with passion, the young talent shines brightly and will undoubtedly go on to big things. 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Chess plays at Curve's Studio until Saturday 13th August 2022. It is currently sold out but keep an eye out for any returns curveonline.co.uk/

The cast of Chess. Photo by Tom Wren

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