The Chess Game Review in Primary Times

For the past two years my children and I have been bowled over by the talent and professionalism of Forth Children’s Theatre’s fringe shows, so it was with high expectations that we went along to The Chess Game at Inverleith Church.  And I am delighted to say that we were not disappointed.

From the moment that the huge, black and white-clad, cast emerged on to the giant chessboard of a stage, my daughters and I were moved and entranced by the power of the massed chorus, belting out the opening number.  It didn’t matter that we were unfamiliar with the music, written incidentally by FCT’s musical director, Iain Macdonald.

The show tackles the serious theme of war in a light-hearted way.  This does not however compromise the gravity of the underlying message, that war is a game, even a whim of those in power, in this case the kings, queens, bishops and knights, that wreaks destruction and devastation on the oppressed ‘pawns’, foot soldiers charged with carrying out the fighting – for reasons that are beyond their care or comprehension.

The large cast of extremely talented youngsters deal well with these difficult themes, from the raw talent of the younger performers to the more nuanced, mature performances of some of the ‘older’, more experienced actors and singers.  The ensemble numbers are magnificent, while the quieter solo numbers, such as the excellent  “I hear the bell toll” convey the powerful emotion of the show.

All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening for adults and children alike.  Both my 9 and 7 year old daughters were mesmerized throughout.  Jojo, 9, commented: “I loved the two queens, I thought they were really brilliant at singing.  My favourite bit was at the end when all the characters had a pillow fight – I really wanted to get up on the stage and join in”.

Amelia, 7, thought it was a great show too.  She loved all the music and singing and was delighted to discover that there were real musicians playing the music.  She also loved all the black and white costumes of the characters.

We can’t wait until next year’s show!

Evening News Review by Thom Dibdin

A JAZZY score and light-hearted banter underpin the strong and serious message of FCT’s well-judged musical offering for the Fringe.

Originally produced by the company in 1985, The Chess Game is written by their musical director Iain MacDonald. It is both a timely piece of entertainment and one which perfectly weighted for its young performers.

A collection of anonymous, white and black-clad figures emerge out of darkness. Over the musical they form up into a hierarchy, with individuals taking the roles of the chess pieces, and then the pieces take on the aggressive qualities of the game of chess, to a brilliantly twisted finale.

The older members of the cast, such as Rebecca Gilhooley as the White Queen, and the quartet of girls as the media-savvy Knights, put in strong and subtle performances.

The younger members shine too. Hayley Scott and Liam Thomson as the lead pawns trade on their strengths – hers in her voice, his in his acting – with great, heartfelt performances.

Which is what makes this production so entrancing. It entices the performers out of their comfort zones – but not so far as to leave them exposed – with strong music and great rhythms that are complex in structure, but satisfying to listen to.

Run ends Saturday

Thom Dibdin’s review of The Chess Game on Annal of Edinburgh Stage

Apps, Happiness, Casablanca and The Chess Game

When Two Queens Go to War… Rebecca Gilhooley and Julia Carstairs in FCT’s The Chess Game. Photo © Mark Gorman

By Thom Dibdin

Start it up and lets go! Day One of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe dawned bright and clear. No monsoon, no rain, just a crisp morning with light wind and sunny skies.

A perfect day for a play called Happiness, it would seem, at a sparkling new venue to boot: The Playhouse at Hawke and Hunter Green Room. Good timing too, for the Tron Theatre’s revival of Casablanca, the Gin Joint Cut – which arrives in Edinburgh with a slew of four and five star reviews under its belt. And to round off the day, a visit to the first Edinburgh Local Hero, with the fabby FCT’s The Chess Game, at Inverleith.

……………

The Cast of The Chess Game, by FCT. Photo © Mark Gorman

Finally the Local Heroes, Forth Children’s Theatre. I always enjoy reviewing their productions but was slightly concerned to be there on first night of The Chess Game, particularly when the company has just said good-bye to a very successful generation of young performers.

No worries, though, The Chess Game was excellent. Not perfect yet, but the voices will mature and grow in confidence over the years, as will the acting. There are several in the company who need to learn to speak up and out, as the mumbled spoken lines into their boots. Director Vic Laing could also have improved some of the blocking. He left several of the more diminutive members of the company stuck out of sight at the back in big ensemble numbers and tableaux which should have given everyone a chance to shine.

That said, the young company tackled this piece about war, redemption and taking responsibility with real maturity. There are several very problematic moments which they made pass by with a natural fluidity to their pacing. Their musical performances pushed right to the edge of their abilities too – well beyond their comfort zones – and they made the tricky arrangements sound simple.

Of course they do have some cracking support, and those responsible for the wardrobe did an excellent job. The live band were crisp and supportive under the leadership of Iain MacDonald who wrote the words, music and lyrics of the show – which FCT first performed back in 1984. A thought-provoking treat. And I found myself humming the tunes on the way home.

 

Comments…

Thanks Tom for a very constructive review. Out of interest what did you feel were the very problematic moments?

You’re right it is a very young cast and a lot of thought has to go in to the productions we present. But we feel this is an underpresented production with a lot of merit that really suits an ensemble cast.

 

Thom’s reply

Thanks for commenting Mark, and thanks very much for letting me link to your pics!

Those “problematic” moments might better have been described ones which are “tricky to get right and very easy to get wrong” – I’m thinking of moment of the on-stage kiss, for example…

Then there is the moment when the lead white pawn and the lead black pawn confront each other on the battle field. Hayley Scott’s white pawn is asked by Liam Thomson’s black pawn why she hates him, she says: “Because you are black”. I thought that they did that scene superbly, it didn’t feel forced and I was quite in the moment of the exchange.

This was a great choice of production for the cast, I thought. My review will be in the Edinburgh Evening News on Monday, so look out for that!

Edinburgh Evening News review of Guys and Dolls

By Josie Balfour

Guys and Dolls
Inverleith Church Hall
***

Nathan Detroit, a sly and mischievous Sean Quinn, has been stepping out with Adelaide for as long as anyone can remember.

Which suits such a man about town right down to the lower ground floor of the Empire State Building. Adelaide, a sumptuous and sublime Rio Brady, however, is a lady with a mother who would not understand. This has placed Miss Adelaide in a very delicate situation, the stress of which has caused an upper respiratory inflammation that cannot be resolved unless a gold ring is placed on the third finger of her left hand.

Behind his beloved’s back and, naturally, that of the law, Nathan has been running a Craps game which has become somewhat complicated by a shortage of cash. Cash that can only be gleaned from one Sky Masterson, a swell yet understated Philip Ryan.

And the only sure way to part Sky and his money is a gamble. Enter the upstanding and abstemious Sarah Brown, an angel faced and voiced Rebecca Gilhooley, the unwitting victim of Detroit’s cunning swindle. Yet all does not go to plan and, via a complicated series of misadventures, the foursome find themselves entangled in a mishap that might end at the alter.

Taking over the church hall at Inverleith this week, these young ruffians and their fellow miscreants are sharing their version of these troubling events nightly. Included in their high-falutin’ family friendly hijinks are some outstanding musical numbers, Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat and Take Back Your Mink perfectly capturing the spirit of Damon Runyon’s New York street hustlers.

Yet not all of their congregation of sinners is as stretched as the main quartet, nor are they challenged by the nature of the project they have embarked upon, having visited this story’s particular neighbourhood before. Straddling uncomfortably that dangerously thin line between school play and the success of their previous productions, Forth Children’s Theatre continually tease the audience with tantalising glimpses of their ability through the veneer of a very conventional account of Runyon’s best known proceedings.

Broadway Baby Review of Guys and Dolls


Guys and Dolls
Inverleith Church Hall
***
**

Guys and Dolls is based on the well known Hollywood film and stage musical. The storyline is set in the 1940’s around a couple of gamblers who are involved in the oldest permanent floating craps game in New York City. Nathan Detroit, who is hosting the game, is in desperate need of $1,000 and makes a bet with Sky Masterson that Sky cannot make a particular girl fall for him. Sky bets that whoever it is, he will be able to take her to Havana for dinner the next day. Nathan chooses Sara, who is running the local Mission. Will Sky succeed or will Sara be able to resist his charms? Will Sara manage to find enough sinners to be able to keep her Mission going?

The Forth Children’s Theatre has a long successful history of bringing productions to Edinburgh. Their staging is always spectacular but is significantly different every year as they develop new ways of using Inverleith Church Hall. For Jekyll & Hyde the stage was placed at the end of the hall. Last year, for Ragtime, it was in the middle but for Guys And Dolls it’s set along the length of the hall. This has the effect of making it more intimate; nobody is more than a few rows from the stage. But it also allows the action to move from side to side as well as backwards and forwards. At times there are multiple scenes taking place at once.

The production moves along very quickly, with barely a pause for breath. It’s quite long, at over two and a half hours including an interval, but it never drags for a moment.

The age range of the children in the company means that some of the performers are fully grown while others are still very small. The quality of the acting is so high that this makes no difference at all.

Singing and dancing are excellent throughout, particularly in some of the large ensemble numbers which made full use of the large stage, such as ‘Luck Be A Lady Tonight’ and ‘Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat’.

Definitely not to be missed.