I hope you have enjoyed the first preview of the RJS production of Chess. There is still a lot more work required, but I hope this will have given you an idea of how my production might look if it were possible to stage it. The sketches are very basic but I hope they give an indication of the concept.
You will all have your own ideas about what works in Chess and what doesn’t, what songs should be cut and which shouldn’t and how they should or shouldn’t be staged. This version is the one I feel comes closes - without making too many major alterations - to improving the various elements that I felt didn’t quite work in the original script.
Although I have already made many changes there are still other things that I would probably do differently if I had the complete freedom to change anything I wanted. I have however tried to create a version that would be possible to stage without the need of major lyrical alterations. There are certain places where the original lyrics do not make complete sense, but I hope you can overlook these anomalies and imagine the lyrics have been changed to fit the scene. I have also added quite a few pieces of dialogue, but these are all quite short pieces and always underscored, so the whole show is similar to London in that it is mostly sung-through. I feel the sung-through format gives the show a momentum and fluidity that is lost when the music is allowed to stop and a large chunk of dialogue is spoken without a musical backdrop.
I have opted for the single setting, as in Sydney and Stockholm. I have chosen Bangkok as the location and cut Merano. I feel Merano is a little old fashioned to be in a version that I wanted to feel quite contemporary. It’s a great song, but not right for this version.
I’ve not set it over two weeks, or four days or any specific time period. Partly, because I wanted to reflect the fact that you can never really tell how long a chess tournament will last. I also wanted the action to feel quite organic and for it to happen in the time the audience believes it does. What I mean is that I want the audience to see the developments take place within the time required for them to happen. I don’t want them to know that it’s day one, or day two or that it’s day four and therefore must be near the end of the story. I want them to witness time pass in a natural state and if they believe that it must have taken four days or ten days for Florence and Anatoly to fall in love I want them to be able to have their own opinion about this. I’m hoping that this will help to make the love story plausible in the eyes of the audience. Different people will have different opinions as to how long it takes to fall in love! Whatever their opinion I want the show's time scale to accommodate it.
Chess can easily be staged with hardly any set and I’ve not actually used anything very elaborate. The screens though would prove to be a complicated piece of equipment, but I feel they would add a very visual element to the production. I love the idea of them moving around the stage, very much like large chess pieces almost ‘pushing’ the humans into their next scene or position. Of course they are used very much like the towers in New York, but they are actually based more on the original London design which never actually saw the light of day. Because these screens can be translucent or opaque they can create many different depths and layers on the stage. If money was no object I would love for them to be used to project images on, or have video screens built into them, but I've not really developed this into the current design, though I would love to use them in this way.
One Night In Bangkok
I’ve given ‘One Night In Bangkok’ to The Arbiter. I’ve always thought this was a better way to open the show and giving it to him is perhaps a little more logical than giving it to Freddie and Anatoly as in Sydney. That said, I do like the idea of all three of them being involved in the song. Perhaps, we could see their differing reactions to the city as they explore it separately - which would be quite interesting.
US v USSR
I’ve brought the press into the story as soon as possible, as I’d like them to act almost like a Greek chorus and thus reflect and comment on the happenings throughout the tournament. I’d like there to be maybe a few reprises of ‘Press Conference’ during the show, but this of course would require new lyrics! I imagine the press being there and recording all of the public moments in the character's lives and maybe even trying to intrude upon some private moments too.
The Story Of Chess
A staging idea that I like for ‘The Story’, but doesn’t work for this production, is for it to be at the top of the show and to have the press being handed a press pack with the full details of the two champions and the history of the game. While they are waiting for the arrival of the champions they read (sing) the story of chess and ‘discuss’ it among themselves. In this version I felt a little more imagery was required, so I have chosen to stage extracts from the history and have these recorded for the title sequences for the televised games. Of course this was Walter’s idea and he’s struck a very lucrative deal with all TV stations that will be using these sequences! No doubt product placement will play a part in it!
I’ve chosen to make Freddie the new challenger rather than the current world champion. This was partly because I wanted to use the idea of Molokov leaking information about Florence to the press. If she and Freddie had been at the championships before then her past would have been dragged up before. I therefore chose to make them relatively new to the international chess world. Her past has not really been a big issue to Florence. She has of course been very aware of what happened, but she’s a grown woman now and has left all that behind. That is until it is dragged up by Molokov and the press. It is this that knocks her off her usually strong foundation and begins the chain of events that have the potential to topple her completely.
Likewise I felt that if Anatoly had been in this position at least once before, he would have had more time to become disillusioned by Molokov and all the promises they have made to him. He’s also had time to grow apart from Svetlana due to the strain of becoming the world champion and then the pressure to retain it. He’s just about to arrive at breaking point and it’s this that makes him see in Florence something that he realises he is missing – freedom in one respect, but also strength.
I have always felt that this was much too early for Anatoly and Florence to kiss. It certainly should be the point where their interest in each other is heightened, but a kiss just seems unlikely at this point. Also, if Freddie saw this I can not imagine that he would let Florence stay with him! He’d throw her out there and then. Whatever happens between them is actually more effective if it’s all in Freddie’s mind – even though what he imagines was also very much in the minds of Anatoly and Florence. It’s all just a seed that has been sown in all three imaginations and from there it begins to grow!
Pity The Child
I’ve never seen this as a defeatist song, but rather the catalyst that gets Freddie fired up and ready to take on the challenge of his life. Thus I have placed it just after his percieved betrayal by Florence. At first he is defeated, but in time he remembers his own inner strength and is once again ready to take on the world. It is also quite interesting that it is the aftermath of Walter’s merchandising attempts earlier that day that eventually lifts Freddie’s spirits and sets him back on the road to success.
I’ve always had a bit of a problem with the Arbiter’s song. It always ends up as a dance number, which is somewhat out of place in a show that is not a dance show. I actually really like the idea of it being at the beginning of act two and being done as a commentary to the press on events so far, but I feel that for this to work it would require a complete rewrite, so that wasn’t an option. In the end I decided that the only way to make it seem ‘real’, was to make it unreal! Thus it is now a trip into the mind of the Arbiter himself. It also serves the purpose of getting us through a whole game of chess without having to resort to a static stage and the Chess music being played.
Chess is a beautiful piece of music, but I’ve always found it quite dull to watch on the stage. London got away with it, as it had the video screens, which gave the audience something to watch and also information about the games and the players. It’s unlikely that any other production will ever have this capability, so I had to find a way to make the piece more interesting. I was also very anxious to try and find a way of showing the progression of time. It thus became an obvious solution to use Chess as underscoring for various sub scenes that would not only show the passing of time, but also the developments within the relationships. It may be nice, if rewrites were possible, to do the sub scenes as sung pieces, such as ‘Argument’ or ‘Florence Quits’, but in its current form the sub scenes are just small clips of dialogue that encapsulate the current state of each relationship.
I really like the idea of the kiss being the final moment of act one. The image of the two potential lovers embraced in a passionate kiss seems a fitting end to a sequence of scenes in which various chess and human pieces have been moved, sacrificed and lost.
I quite like the idea of seeing a mysterious woman arriving in the middle of the night in Bangkok. There has been no mention of who she is, so it would add an element of intrigue. It may not work in reality, but it’s a nice image.
I’ve been very bold with this song and not only moved its location, but also changed its meaning. Obviously the words still mean the same, but they are now no longer strictly true. Anatoly probably does feel similarly to the way the words claim he does, but the choice to express this at his own free will has been taken from him, this very fact is actually more likely to make him want to leave Russia. So as the false words are being sung they are actually slowly becoming true! I really like this double meaning within the words, but I’m sure many people will disagree. To me it becomes the perfect example of how Molokov not only controls Anatoly’s movements, but his ‘public’ thoughts too.
The Deal/Nobody’s Side
I’ve chosen to stage this as part of a Sponsors Black Tie event in order to provide some attractive black and white images, but there is also the option of staging it like Chess. In which case the different sub scenes would take place in different locations. I do however like the sponsors setting and it would be nice to have a different staging to that of Chess. I also think that having it at an event with all the ‘deals’ being proposed one after the other helps to signify the tension that is building up between all those concerned. This in turn makes it a more suitable setting for Florence to suddenly begin to question her own moves and decide to change her strategy. Having Nobody's Side in the middle of The Deal might not work, but I thought it worth a go.
I Know Him So Well
I don’t want the women to meet while they are singing this song. I’ve always felt it was better for them to be on their own and reflecting on their time with Anatoly. I hope you agree that the set up during The Deal provides them with the foundations for the feelings they are confronting during the song.
This song really needs a bit of rewriting, as I now have Freddie and Anatoly playing this final game. I’ve used the original lyrics and given them to different people. It works, but it’s obviously a bit of a compromise. I think you’ll get the idea though and I’m sure you can imagine the basic ideas and thoughts that would be going through everybody’s mind.
You And I
I’ve always felt that this song on its own has never been quite emotive enough to end the show. That sounds silly I suppose, as it really is a beautiful and emotive song, but somehow, it doesn't quite feel like an end of show song - it needs just a little something extra. The Anthem reprise in London raised the show to a fantastic climax, but in many ways it was a cheat and didn’t really provide the show with a conclusive ending. It made the audience sit up and take notice and it also had the desired effect of making them think they had really enjoyed the entire show. It’s an old trick and one that works extremely well, but I wanted to try and end the story in a more concrete way. The story is inherently full of lose ends, so I thought firstly that maybe it would be an idea to see what all four characters are thinking at this point. Thus I have brought Svetlana and Freddie in to express their thoughts too. All four lives have become entwined in this story, which is now obviously not going to have a happy ending. I then wanted to end the piece on a high, but without using ‘Anthem’. I felt this might be possible by bringing the chorus in to heighten the power. Thus the chorus evoke the thoughts that are whirling around within the heads of the four characters and it should be possible to end the show on this powerful vocal finale.
This I believe will bring the song to an interesting end, but I still believe the story is left in a bit of a void. Nothing much has changed really. I felt that something conclusive had to happen to bring the story and the show to a proper end. Chess has never had a happy ending, but it’s not exactly had a sad or tragic ending either. This is mostly due to the audience never really being too certain what has happened. They need someone or something to latch onto. In Anthem reprise you feel for Florence – more because of the powerful music than her actual position in life, but you still feel for her, which is what is needed. Thus I have decided to go for an ending that will raise emotions. It’s not sad, it is in fact a happy ending in many respects, but the level of emotion that could be evoked should take the audience close to a feeling of sadness for the years that Florence and her father have lost together. The emotion should spark a tear rather than a smile, though there will be an element of happiness from the thought that at least something worthwhile came out of all that has happened.
Her father may indeed be proven to be a traitor to his country - that could be how he survived, but that was all a long time ago. This man is her father, the only true relative she has ever had. She can forgive whatever he did, in an attempt to feel what it’s like to feel true familial love. Maybe this ending is too sentimental, but I like it and I believe that it will at least spark some emotion in the audience.
Those are my basic reasons behind my choices in the staging and writing of this version. Feel free to send me any comments you want – good or bad, I’ll be happy to receive them.