Thursday 14th of April 2016, I had the pleasure of watching Chess, in concert, a production by my favourite – I am very biased! – Amateur Dramatics Group, The Hitchin Thespians
Chess is a musical with music by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus from Abba and lyrics by Tim Rice, which is set in the cold war era and comments on the political status of USA and Russia during that time through the parallel of a chess tournament. Historically the musical was a huge success in the West End where it played for 3 years, opening on 1986. No major attempts at reviving the musical have been made, but it continues to be one of the most relevant musical placing 7th in BBC Radio 2’s “Number One Essential Musicals” list, demonstrating its strength as a piece.
The Thespians, an operatic amateur dramatics society that has been around for over 100 years and decided to tackle this incredible piece but in a concert version. I loved every second but have to be analytical of a few things that theatrically did not work.
The space at Woodside hall where the thespians perform is rectangular, usually the stage is located at one of the narrower ends of the stage but this time they decided to go for a long stage and long seating. This allowed them to add the members of choir either side of the central stage. However, this caused a huge unbalance in the sound where audiences on either side could only really hear the choir directly infront of them. Audience members sat in the central area were welcomed with a fantastic wall of sound however.
Performances were excellent from the main cast, as usual the pool of talent in the society oozes and they never cease to impress. The band again was incredible, giving the sound of a full orchestra and musical band with just two pianos and a drum set. Overall for an amateur production, with limited space and flexibility they tackled their issues head on and tried to make it work as best as possible. Still a completely enjoyable performance and I think that for any growing theatre producer, actor, practitioner, director etc it is important to see as many productions that can show you the type of challenges that you can encounter. However, it is s much fun to come up with alternatives to make it work. So if you don’t come and watch the Hitchin Thespians, go watch your own local theatre group, to watch some incredible untapped talent and to learn more about the basics of the beautiful thing that is theatre and live performance.