Below you will find a detailed synopsis of how Chess was staged by the Gothenburg Opera. I've included various stage directions, which I'm sure most of you will already understand, but here is a list of the abbreviations I have used. SL - Stage Left (Right hand side of the stage as looking at it from the auditorium), SR - Stage Right, USL - Up (Back of) Stage Left, USR - Up Stage Right, USC - Up Stage Centre, DSL - Down Stage (Front of stage) Left, DSR - Down Stage Right, DSC Down Stage Centre,CS Centre Stage.
The general concept for this production was referred to as "Using the graphic style of the comic world.", this manifested itself in such elements as two dimensional props - handbags, microphones, cameras, umbrellas etc. and some 'sketched' backdrops and sets. By contrast other elements were realistic though often underscored with some whacky visual elements - Las Vegas style cowboys and girls during the Arbiter's scene or robotic-like KGB men for example. Every scene was bathed in extremely effective and often beautiful lighting. The whole production had at times a strange but beguiling schizophrenic feel, making it truly intriguing and substantially more effective and engaging than the original 2002 Swedish language production.
Curtain up to the Broadway Prologue intro music and the sound of thunder and lightning. Downstage centre stands a 'knight' his hands upon a large sword - the point of it on the floor. Anatoly is standing on the top of a white platform centre stage. This platform begins to rise revealing it to be a three storey tower made up of nine cubes. The entire back wall has a projection of clouds and rain, as the tower rises, so too do other towers within the projected backdrop.
During the rise of the tower, two KGB men fly in on wires with a slow walking motion. They are dressed in black and white leather trousers, jackets and caps. Eventually they and the tower meet and they walk towards Anatoly. On stage Molokov and more KGB men arrive they also have an exaggerated robotic walking motion. OUVERTYR (Overture / Broadway Prologue Intro)
Within the tower cubes, silhouettes of various people can be seen. A small boy comes on from SL on a skateboard and plays middle stage. A fiddler arrives and begins to busk on the street, standing SL of the tower. Within the cubes, the silhouettes have become real people. From the central staircase of the tower, the boy's grandmother shouts down to him in the street. As they speak, Anatoly makes his way from the roof. He is confronted by Svetlana on the stairs. She is not happy and they begin to argue. Anatoly walks away from her and makes his way to the stage floor to talk with his son. He tells him about the history of chess. HISTORIEN OM SCHACK (History of Chess / The Story of Chess) During the song, silhouettes and real people can be seen within the cubes, illustrating elements of the story, but also more modern day issues, possibly loosely linked to the story being told. (Mothers pleading, brothers fighting, partners arguing etc.) As the song ends, Anatoly says goodbye to his family and is escorted to the airport by Molokov and the KGB. The tower is pushed to extreme SL and from behind it the nose of a jumbo jet appears. KGB characters carry on barrier poles and construct a queuing system at the airport. Security cameras fly in.
Anatoly joins the queue that has formed within the barriers. He begins to reflect upon his life and his dreams. As he sings the song, he and all members of the queue begin to 'walk' or pace backwards and forwards. During the chorus the other people in the queue thrust their (two dimensional) bags and briefcases in various directions into the air. There is also an acrobatic character (who may also be the knight from the opening scene - not sure if he is suppose to represent 'battle' in various ways) who during the chorus bounces on and does various back flips etc. During the second chorus he kicks off the ribbons between the queuing poles and the queue disperses and the people make their way to the plane. A distorted sound of plane engines etc. is heard and the back wall has a swirling cloud-like animation as the scene changes to Merano. DAR JAG VILLE VARA (Where I Want To Be)
The tower is now broken into three sections. One remains SL, while the other two are pushed to USR. The back animation changes to mountains, houses etc - coming into the animation in 'cut-out' sections - in a kind of Monty Python style. 2D palm trees fly in up stage. A full height flat flies in with Merano TV on it. A red carpet is laid CS, with queuing barriers on one side. We are now in the red carpet reception area of the Merano TV studios. Various 'celebrities' arrive at the reception, all of whom are of great interest to the gathered reporters. There is a rock band, models and fashionistas, a man in a tuxedo with three glamour girls on his arm, at least one of which seems to be a drag artist (the one with fake plastic breasts hanging outside of his clothing!) and various other guests. The Arbiters arrive with a 'human mascot' (the acrobat again) dressed in a chequered body suit with expanding dog leads attached to his feet, which after somersaulting along the red carpet, he hands to the Arbiters, who 'lead' him off!
Anatoly arrives with Molokov and various KGB men, followed soon afterwards by the current World Champion, Freddie Trumper. The press go wild for Freddie and of course he laps it up. There is some talk between Anatoly and Freddie and at one point Freddie spills some wine on Anatoly. Florence tries to clean him up with her hanky - which he keeps when she leaves. MERANO / Press Conference
Palm trees and Merano TV flat fly out. Molokov and Anatoly remain SL. The Man is Mad / Anatoly and Molokov
Studio 1 & 2 signs fly in SR and a section of platform seating is brought on SR as Florence and Freddie appear also from SR. They argue, leading into a flashback sequence to 1956. We see little Florence walk on from SL across the stage to the SR tower and climb the staircase to the top floor cube 'apartment' where her father is. Soldiers begin to arrive, filling the stage and climbing the stairs too. The back wall has a projection of scenes from the Polish uprising and some images are also projected on the towers. Florence and her father etc. are forced to leave their apartment at gun point and pushed into the streets. Various protesters are seen, one waves a flag on another section of platform seating now SL.
Lots of pushing and shoving by soldiers etc, with Florence's father eventually being lead away at gun point. The flag lady is now centre stage and gets shot in front of Florence. Both Florence and the dead lady remain in position as the instrumental ends and Florence and Freddie continue their scene. UNGERN '56 (Hungary '56 / You want to lose your only friend/1956)
Freddie eventually leaves and Florence, still angry determines that she will not be controlled by him. The reporters arrive in large numbers and try to speak with her. As she gets wrapped up in the press and media madness she continues to 'keep an eye' on little Florence who is there all the way through Nobody's Side. At the end she holds back the press from getting to her and at the very end little Florence runs off SR. This is the first of childhood memories and fears being represented on stage by a child version of a character. MAN KAN INTE LITA PÅ NÅN (You Can Not Trust Anyone / Nobody's Side)
A voiceover announces the beginning of the tournament as a full back drop sized screen flies in, with a net-like design on it and a oval video screen in the middle showing various chess graphics and eventually the words Game Show. The SL platform is moved to join the SR one. Las Vegas style Cowboys and girls arrive and make their way to SR platform. The girls carry large glittery rosette type items in each hand, which they use somewhat like cheer leader pompoms. A keyboard and drum kit are now USL, the rock band from Merano come on and begin to play here and a circular truck with the chess table and chairs with the Arbiters sitting in them glides to centre stage from SL. Three Arbiter girl assistants appear from SL dressed in chequered dresses and white wigs, they lead on the human mascot. The circular truck revolves at certain times. Square shaped flashing lights appear on the stage floor during the song. Freddie and Anatoly arrive towards the end of the song, meet DSC, shake hands and make their way to the chess table. JAG VILL SE SCHACK (I Want to See Chess / The Arbiter)
The tournament begins. During the game, a small child, dressed like Freddie in a white silk suit comes on from SL and heads to the SR seating platform and sits down among the cowboys and girls. Freddie does a double take when he 'sees' him, but continues to play the game. The little boy then makes his way to DSR followed by the cowboys and girls. Freddie then rushes across to them and as he does so the little boy runs across the stage to the chess board and sits down to play against Anatoly. The cowboys and girls lift Freddie off his feet and hold him above their heads. While this is happening the little boy makes a move on the board then runs off SL. Freddie is set back on his feet, he rushes towards the chess board and swipes the pieces to the floor.CHESS
Molokov, Florence, Arbiters etc rush to centre stage and begin protesting about what has happened. The press also join in and the lead reporter is given some lines from Quartet. By the end of it the Arbiter storms out as the press etc. leave. KVARTETT: EN FOREBILD FOR DYGD OCH HOGSTA AMBITIONS (A Picture of Virtue and Highest Ambitions / Quartet)
Florence is left alone in the studio, she screams in rage, rushes across the stage to the SR platform and kicks it, hurting her foot in the process and almost crying in pain. Suddenly Anatoly's voice is heard - he has been sitting by the keyboard USL. He pulls out her hankie from his pocket and offers it to her. She is shocked and embarrassed. They begin to talk and Anatoly talks of his memories of the stories his teacher told him about Poland etc. (Some music from Lullaby/Apukad is used during this.) Eventually Florence begins to open up about how her life is with Freddie. INTE JAG (Not I / Someone Else's Story)
By the end of the song Florence has climbed onto the chess table and is kissing Anatoly! After the kiss, Anatoly asks her to come with him, he pauses for a few seconds while he places a chess piece on the board, they then rush out of the studio. A chess piece is seen on the screen falling with a thud and rolling on its side.
Molokov comes back to the studio, finds Anatoly gone and the chess piece on the board. He sits at the table, as he does so the truck glides to DSR. A KGB assistant arrives with a red phone (like all props it's also 2D) Molokov makes a call to Russia, as he talks we see within the cubes of the tower that Svetlana and her son are being taken from their apartment by the KGB. A telephone booth arrives DSL Anatoly searches the telephone directory for the number of the American embassy. He has no luck and eventually asks a passing police man. All the while the reporter and her camera/sound man have been hiding behind the booth and hear what is being planned! Upstage right, two of the towers, now with balconies attached, stand side by side with an American flag hung in the gap between them. We can see through the 'window' of one of the cubes that there is a party going on within as Anatoly and Florence arrive. Anatoly 'knocks' the door via a highly exaggerated knocking sound effect, but his knock is ignored. As they wait, a group of reporters arrive and demand to know what is happening.
Florence and Anatoly are separated to DSL and DSR by the press and as they are bombarded with questions and camera flashes they begin to reflect on the situation they have arrived at. Eventually they manage to back away from the press and meet together at upstage centre. The reporters are given some lines from the song and they eventually leave Florence and Anatoly alone. TILLSAMMANS MED DIG (Together With You / Mountain Duet)
The chess table truck returns to centre stage and Anatoly places a red tablecloth on it and it becomes a restaurant table. A waiter brings a 2D bottle of wine. Anatoly and Florence talk.
Headlines are seen on the backdrop about Anatoly and Florence as the reporters track down Freddie and show him the papers. They sing some music from Mountain Duet. Freddie sings his "All that I ask is those I work for...." and leaves.
The chess table truck glides to DSL and Florence sits on it and sings a few lines about her father. (More of the Lullaby/Apukad music is used here.) The reporters catch up with them again and Anatoly leaves the table and heads centre stage to speak with them. He begins Anthem and towards the end the back screen flies out to reveal a Russian political/military tableau complete with Russian flag, Svetlana and her son. Everybody is saluting. I MITT HJARTAS LAND (In the Land of my Heart / Anthem)
Act two opens with just the two outer towers centre stage, three storeys high and with a sweeping staircase curving around them. Down stage centre there is a curved reception counter, where some hotel staff can be seen. Molokov and a KGB man arrive with Svetlana and take her up the stairs to Anatoly's top floor hotel room. Freddie is seen in his first floor room, directly below Anatoly's. Soon Anatoly and Florence arrive together, as they pass by reception Florence notices the headlines in the papers. She shows them to Anatoly and they head up the stairs. Anatoly goes to his room, and finds Svetlana waiting there for him. He sits on the bed - dejected. This image is frozen as action shifts to the room below. The hotel staff spin round the reception counter and it becomes a seat. The staff leave.
Florence goes into Freddie's room and an argument begins. Florence grabs her bags and leaves. FLORENCE LÄMNAR FREDDIE (Florence Leaves Freddie / Argument)
Freddie reflects on his childhood. As he sings the 'ladies of the night' from Merano appear on the ground floor level of the towers - now the hotel bar. They pout and pose as the song progresses, including some pole dancing at times. A single woman 'dances' around a bit and a man and woman kiss and fondle each other. This seems to be trying to depict the kind of thoughts that Freddie is having about his mother and maybe to a degree trying to show that he sees women as something to be used!? Freddie makes his way to half way down the stairs half way through the song, heading to stage centre during the instrumental break. The ladies hold the poles and lean out like ship figure heads during the instrumental and Freddie eventually ends up standing on the reception seat as the song concludes. During the play out he leaves SL. VEM SER ETT BARN (Who Sees A Child / Pity The Child)
Focus now shifts to the top floor room and Anatoly and Svetlana who are also arguing. They talk and part of "They all think they see a man" is used. NI DÖMER MIG (You Sentence Me / Endgame)
Molokov arrives with the boy and Svetlana, frustrated by her husband decides to leave him alone with their son. She heads to the bar. Like Freddie, she stops half way down the stairs, reflecting on the kind of man her husband is. Eventually she arrives in the bar and gets a lot of attention from some man, ending with him groping her and openly fondling both her breasts - from behind. HAN ÄR EN MAN, HAN ÄR ETT BARN (He is a Man he is a Child)
The towers now sink into the stage by one floor, what is now the ground floor cubes become Florence's new hotel room, she appears from behind a curtain in the lower right cube. She is unable to settle and begins to wander the hotel corridors - her mind in turmoil with the feelings she is experiencing. By the end of the song she has made her way to the 'roof' of the towers. SLÅ MITT HJÄRTA SLÅ (Beat My Heart Beat / Heaven Help My Heart)
Anatoly's room is now on the 'balcony' level of the set and as Florence heads down from the roof, Anatoly leaves his room and they meet, at the same time Freddie is heading back to his room and he finds them together, an argument begins. The hotel soon fills with reporters (on the stairs) and hotel staff (at reception) who observe and 'echo' "Partner, partner, partner" etc on what is happening. Eventually Anatoly punches Freddie, knocking him to the ground. Florence drags Anatoly away and they run to the roof together. VEM KUNDE ANA (Who Could Have Guessed / The Deal)
On the roof they reflect on how their dreams may be made of glass. DRÖMMAR AV GLAS (Dreams of Glass / You and I)
Not sure if they come back down the stairs or stay on the roof as the lights fade out on them. The towers now begin to rise back up and the Arbiters reprise music begins, the Arbiters and their assistants are revealed in the lower two cubes, reading the papers etc. They exit the cubes and are joined by their usual 'groupies' and mascot. As they parade downstage centre, the towers slide up stage. JAG VILL SE SCHACK (I Want To See Chess / The Arbiter Reprise)
As the Arbiters and their entourage exit, a flat with a sketch of a rest room interior flies in. Svetlana comes out of one of the cubicles USR, drops something on the floor and while she is picking this up Florence comes into the restroom. They are forced to acknowledge each other, but they don't speak, Svetlana goes straight into the song. They both make it clear that neither of them are willing to give up on the man they both want. Florence stays very much DSR, while Svetlana does move a bit, checks herself in the USR mirror etc. JAG VET VAD HAN VILL (I Know What He Wants / I Know Him So Well)
When Svetlana and Florence have left, Anatoly comes out of a USL cubicle and looks in the USL mirror, as he does this Molokov comes into the restroom and has some important instructions for him. He demands that Anatoly lose the game, withdraw his asylum application and declare that he has been temporarily deranged. He will then be flown home and committed to a mental hospital. He doesn't explain what will happen to his family if he does not cooperate, but it is clear that Anatoly knows exactly the kind of danger they are in.
They both exit and the restroom flat flies out to reveal the chorus (reporters, KGB men etc) standing USL on the stage level and raised platforms, the chess table truck comes on from DSR and remains DSR. Molokov takes his position on the platform next to Svetlana. Anatoly is standing DSL looking at them. Svetlana and Florence are initially facing upstage, but slowly turn to face him. Molokov lifts up Anatoly's son, reminding him what is at stake. The warrior knight is also at the back of the platform, facing off stage at first then turning around and making his way to the chess table as the scene progresses.
Freddie arrives DSR and he and Anatoly take their seats at the chess board. As they do, Molokov, Florence and Svetlana make their way towards the table. For "How straightforward the game..." Freddie gets out of his seat and Molokov takes his place at the board. As the chess table truck revolves, Freddie, Florence and Svetlana walk around it. Once Molokov's sections are finished he gets out of the chair and heads back to the platforms. Freddie takes his place back at the board. Svetlana and Florence do their pieces and they also return to the platforms. As the game continues, Anatoly reflects on his situation, his mind becoming more and more confused. He at one point makes a massive startled jump away from the table, knocking over the chair and falling to his knees on the floor, DSC. He eventually returns to the table, makes his final moves and I think throws the match. During this the warrior knight has been gesturing with his sword and pointing it towards Anatoly etc until at last the game is over. Freddie is declared the winner and the press clamour for him. Anatoly's son, goes to Freddie and asks him to autograph his arm CS. Freddie signs the boy's arm and then leaves with the press SR. Svetlana and her son move to the platforms SL. NI DÖMER MIG (You Sentence Me / End Game)
Florence sits with Anatoly at the chess table. The You and I reprise is used. During this Molokov brings on a wheelchair and a KGB agent takes Anatoly's left arm, pulls up his sleeve and gives him an injection. The KGB agent goes to lift him out of the chair and into the wheelchair, but Anatoly refuses, Molokov indicates for the KGB agent to leave him sitting. At the end of the song when he goes to stand he stumbles and they help him into the wheelchair. They wheel him off and Florence is left alone. DRÖMMAR AV GLAS (Dreams of Glass / You and I)
The scene then changes to the airport. The nose of two jumbo jets, one American, one Russian are wheeled into position, steps are also pushed into place and queue barriers are erected. The 'celebrities' from Merano arrive and climb the steps to the American plane. HISTORIEN OM SCHACK (History of Chess / The Story of Chess)
Florence arrives but does not board the plane, she remains centre stage between both planes. Svetlana arrives, pushing Anatoly in his wheelchair, she leaves Anatoly as she walks past Florence and boards the Russian plane. Anatoly is left with the KGB men, they allow him to speak with Florence.
During this, Freddie arrives, the reporters fawn over him, he poses for pictures etc. he then slowly makes his way up the steps to the plane, watching Florence and Anatoly as he goes. Eventually he gives a final wave to the reporters and heads into the plane.
Anatoly stumbles to his feet for the final parts of the song and they embrace. As the song ends the lights snap off to black. DRÖMMAR AV GLASS (Dreams of Glass / You and I)
The Curtain Call
During the curtain call a wonderful instrumental version of The Arbiter was played. This version had heavy drum beats which along with the traditional Swedish slow hand claps of applause, created a wonderful connection between the audience and the performers. There was a true feeling of pleasure and appreciation which swept around the entire auditorium. This was the most enjoyable curtain call I have ever experienced!!!