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Chess the musical

The Sainsbury Singers presented Chess The Musical on 27-31 October 2009 at The Hexagon Theatre, Reading.

Despite the title, this show really has very little to do with the game of chess, but more to do with the animosity between the United States and the Soviet Union in the period after the Second World War until the fall of Communism.

Chess the musical performed by Sainsbury Singers

Tim Rice originally wished to write a musical about how the Cold War affected the lives of all those it touched. The story revolves around the romantic triangle that develops when an American chess champion and his lover travel to Merano to defend his title against a Russian opponent.

The score was written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, two members of Abba, who were looking for a musical theatre project. Chess The Musical started life as a hit concept album and then opened in the West End in 1986.


Principals (in order of appearance)
  • Frederick Trumper (USA) The World Chess Champion Simon Hutson
  • Florence Vassy Trumper’s Second Lorraine Dobby
  • Anatoly Sergievsky (USSR) The Challenger Paul Stoneley
  • Alexander Molokov Sergievsky’s Second Brian Bretney
  • The Arbiter International Chess Federation Stephen Cox
  • Walter de Courcey an American TV executive Nigel Wilson
  • Svetlana Sergievsky Lucy Hutson
Chess The Sainsbury Singers castThe Ensemble – Citizens of Merano and Bangkok; Reporters; Members of the Russian and American Delegations; Arbiter’s Assistants; Merchandisers; Civil Servants; TV Crew

Tracey Attridge, Ian Beavon, Lee-Ann Bowsher, Beth Brummer, Terri Chopping, Helen Cleeve, Peter Cox,Helen Eggleton, Chris Faulkner, Chris Goodchild, Tricia Goodchild, Dan Groves, Lynn Harrison, Chris Howard, Abi Kirkwood, Hilary Latimer, Emma Prince, Chris Reeves, Emma Reeves, Denise Schult, Michael Schult, Michael Stebbings, Carolyn Steed, Chris Thomas, Jessamy Vincent, Lesley Vought, Hannah Wyard

The Band
  • Leader Guy Haskell
  • Violin Penny Gee
  • Cello Neil Charlton
  • Bass Jonathan Williams
  • Flute / Piccolo David Wirdnam
  • Oboe / Cor Anglais Clive Evans
  • Clarinet Zoe Belbin
  • Clarinet / Bass Clarinet Jo Paterson-Neild
  • Trumpets Dominic Field and Jemma Evans
  • French Horn Tim Pocock
  • Trombone Nick Kershaw
  • Keyboards Anton Gwilt and Jevan Johnson Booth
  • Guitar Darren Rampton
  • Persussion Christian McNally and Colin Gray
Chess television studio sceneBehind The Scenes
  • Director Chris Boott
  • Musical Director Trevor Defferd
  • Assistant to the Director Viv Cox
  • Joint choreographers Kim Antell and Bella Stebbings
  • Production Co-ordinator Stephen Cox
  • Stage Manager John Simmonds
  • Deputy Stage Manager Nigel Antell
  • Assistant Stage Manager Ian Robertson
  • Stage Crew Joe Daniels, Joseph Daniels, James Humby, Nick Humby, John Radley and Keith Webb
  • Lighting Designer Kim Hollamby
  • Lighting assistants and follow spot operators Joseph Daniels and Peter Harley
  • Sound Assistant Sally Ollerenshaw
  • Prompt Anne Lowder
  • Props Mark Winkworth and David Schult
  • Wardrobe Mistresses Amanda Bretney and Valda Hull
  • Wardrobe assisted by Rachel Masters
  • Head of Makeup Louise Marshall
  • Makeup assisted by Catherine Hannan and Kerry Woodley
  • Costumes The Society, Berkshire Costume Service, Fun ‘N’ Frolic
  • Scenery and furniture Scenery Hire Ltd of Newport
  • Sound Equipment Skan PA Hire
  • Projection Equipment Surtees Reading Ltd
  • Onstage Cameras Golden Age Television Creations
  • Graphic design, artwork and pre-press production Nigel Wilson
  • Programme Compiler Denise Schult (programme cover design created by Chris Howard from an idea by Nigel Wilson)
  • Publicity Team Chris Howard, Ruth Howard, Rob Latimer, Emma Prince, Denise Schult and Jessamy Vincent
  • Displays Carolyn Steed
  • Webmasters Nigel Antell and Brian Bretney
  • Printing Print Wise
  • Photography Ray Wilmott
  • Front of House Manager John Jones

The Hexagon staff; The Sainsbury Singers front of house team; Network Rail.


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Chess the breakdownHenley Standard

Checkmate for the Sainsbury Singers

I WENT to see the Sainsbury Singers perform Chess at the Hexagon last week. They really did perform this modern musical with a style and pace that befits London’s West End. Of course I have some observations, but overall it was a splendid performance and great credit to all the cast, especially the principals, musical director and Chris Boott the producer.

Chess is a difficult musical to perform as the music is challenging and there is lots of it. It is of a modern idiom and all the singers need to extend their range in places. It also requires good amplification as befits the modern day musical and unless that is done well, it can ruin a good presentation.

The story has two main protagonists, both chess players and they portray the cold war struggle between America and Russia. Here we saw the difference between Freddy Trumper (played by Simon Hutson), loud and brash, and Anatoly Sergievsky (played by Paul Stoneley), quiet and contemplative. Both excellent singers; they made a terrific contrast which brought their struggle to a clear focus.

Other principals supported them well especially Florence Vassy (played by Lorraine Dobby) and Svetlana Sergievsky (played by Lucy Hutson) and there is that well known duet I Know Him So Well, competently performed by these two.

There were two’ songs that I particularly liked – Anthem, by Anatoly which summed up his predicament having won the world championship and gained a new lover but leaving his mother land. This was also sung by Florence at the end and it is a stirring piece of music that creates a fantastic atmosphere.

Freddie sang Pity the Child which was another emotion­-filled performance as he played out the history of his childhood and we all shared his tears and heartache during this performance.

There were ample opportunities for large chorus pieces and I was impressed at all the cameos which took the action from Merano Italy to Thailand taking in alpine scenes, the arena for the championship and best of all the streets of Bangkok, where we were given a concoction of dancers, street cooking and even lady boys!

I have to say that this is one of the best shows that I have seen the Sainsbury Singers perform. It was slick, with great pace, the strong story line being played out well to the audience; not always easy for this show: There was great emphasis on the scene changing and although there were some blackouts, they were relatively short. It doesn’t matter if the stage hands are seen on stage clearing away; you can focus on the current action with lighting so be brave; lose the blackouts!

It seems that we have entered a new era with the Sainsbury Singers; where they can rise to any challenge and provide high class entertainment in a regional town. I’m really looking forward to Beauty and the Beast in May 2010! Book early.

John Evans

Chess hotel foyer sceneThe Reading Chronicle

Chess at The Hexagon, Reading

THIS work, with Tim Rice’s lyrics set to music by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, presents a real challenge to any amateur group that is brave enough to perform it and The Sainsbury Singers are to be congratulated on the huge success of their latest production.

It was inevitable that, at the height of the Cold War, a World Championship Chess match between the American holder Frederick Trumper and his Russian challenger Anatoly Sergievsky would have political overtones.

Add to that a love affair involving both finalists and the same woman and the scene was set for high drama, which was exactly what we had in Chris Boott’s superb production. Paul Stonely gave a magnificent performance as the challenger showing both the steely exterior needed for his game and hisinternal struggle between family life and fame. Beautifully sung throughout, his performance of the famed Anthem that closes Act 1 was outstanding. Despite his brash exterior, the American champion Simon Hutson revealed a softer side that was particularly apparent in his passionate delivery of Pity the Child.

Lorraine Dobby’s vast vocal range enabled her to confidently portray Trumper’s manager and girlfriend who gradually falls for the charms of his Russian opponent while Lucy Hutson brought a delightfully contrasting quality to Anatoly’s wife. Their duet I Know Him So Well fully deserved the ovation accorded.

The impressive principal line-up, ably supported by a strong chorus who responded well to their new musical director Trevor Defferd, made this a delightful evening’s entertainment.

Barrie Theobald

Chess - the chess matchNational Operatic and Dramatic Association

London Region

Society The Sainsbury Singers 
Production “CHESS” 
Date Saturday 31st October 2009
Venue The Hexagon – Reading 
Report by Henry Hawes – NODA Representative – Area 13

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s original partner, Tim Rice, combined with Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson – better known as the two male quarters of the Swedish singing group Abba – to write “Chess”, a sizzling story of Cold War politics and sport, set in the style of the times of end-to-end music. The show’s principal characters are the contestants – one American and one Russian – in a world chess championship that ends up being used by the political people of each country for propaganda and power plays, much more significant than those played out on the chessboards. Caught up in the middle of all this is the Eastern-bloc refugee Florence Vassy, who had become lover and second to the American player but who switches her affections to the Russian and helps him temporarily, to defect.

The score for “Chess” holds some exciting stage music of its time, and when the show’s pre-production recording came out its two women duo ‘l Know Him So Well’ moved swiftly up the charts into the number one spot that no show song had occupied in years. The romantic and dramatic music of the score is its chief glory – the heroine’s wondering’Heaven Help My Heart: the American’s tantrum ‘Pity The Child’ and the duo ‘You and l’ which sees the birth of love between the Russian and Florence – but there are lighter pieces, as the ‘Soviet Machine’ gets drunker and drunker on its march to glory and two embassy officials prissily look over the Russian’s application for asylum. The show comes to a peak in a stormy, concerted ‘End Game’ in which the Russian – distracted by personal and political problems – fights to retain his championship.

On Saturday 31st October 2009 I was pleased to be invited to review Sainsbury Singers latest production “Chess”. This is not an easy show to present, requiring excellent singers with stamina in the principal roles as there is little time vocally to rest the voice. Musically it is quite difficult to sing and is somewhat reminiscent of Sondheim who is notoriously difficult, but Sainsbury’s rose to the challenge. Movement, entrances and exits had been well engineered and gave a good flow to the proceedings. I have reviewed a number of amateur “Chess” productions and can honestly say that this was, by far, the best I have ever seen.

Simon Hutson – (FREDERICK TRUMPER (USA) – The World Chess Champion – As the brash American chess master, Simon played this part with conviction. He was right in character with a well sustained American accent. His movements about the stage area was all in keeping with the character and he exhibited an excellent singing voice of power and control. – A most believable characterisation.

Lorraine Dobby – (FLORENCE VASSY) – Trumper’s Second -This lady was outstanding in this demanding role. Her feelings towards both ‘Frederick’ and ‘Anatoly’ were well displayed. This is a testing role vocally, but Lorraine was equal to it displaying an excellent singing voice with good phrasing and intonation which really came to the fore in the ‘show-stopping’ duet with ‘Svetlana’ ‘I Know Him So Well’, beautifully sung. Diction, facial expressions and movement was all of a high order – Well done.

Paul Stoneley – (ANATOLY SERGIEVSKY (USSR) – The Challenger – As the dour Russian chess master, Paul had just the right characterisation displaying well the antagonism between himself and ‘Frederick’. His feelings towards the two women in his life was well displayed, showing all the necessary emotions. Here was another performer with an excellent singing voice. Movement and diction could not be faulted – Congratulations.

Brian Bretney – (ALEXANDER MOLOKOV) – Sergievsky’s Second – This was a well controlled character by Brian. He had grasped all the Russian mannerisms and his feelings towards the various machinations was well displayed. Vocally Brian exhibited an excellent bass voice which had power and resonance and was the best I have heard him sing – Congratulations.

Stephen Cox – (THE ARBITER) – International Chess Federation – Here was a good commanding presence as required for the part. Movement about the stage was confident and was effective in keeping the two ‘warring factions’ apart. Stephen exhibited a good singing voice with good diction and projection

Nigel Wilson – (WALTER de COURCEY) – An American TV Executive – Nigel can always be relied upon to present a good character, and this was no exception. He was suitably brash and loud as one would expect from an American TV Executive. Diction was good with a well sustained American accent. Although not a large part in the overall production, it certainly had impact.

Lucy Hutson – (SVETLANA SERGIEVSKY) – As the former wife of ‘Anatoly’, lucy gave a good presentation of this character. She adopted a good posture which indicated well her position. Good diction and facial expressions and a singing voice which blended perfectly with ‘Florence’, in ‘/ Know Him So Well’. This is probably the best known song from the show and these two did it full justice and shouts of ‘encore’ from the audience was justified but not possible. Diction, movement, facial expressions were all well displayed Congratulations.

The Ensemble – Consisting of Citizens of Merano and Bangkok; Reporters; Members of the Russian and American Delegations; Arbiter’s Assistants; Merchandisers; Civil Servants; TV crew – This chorus filled the stage with movement with each individual member portraying the many characters in the ensemble. They ensured a balanced stage throughout the performance and entered fully into the drama of the show. Singing was of a high quality with a good balance of voices and precise entries, no easy task with such difficult music – Well done to each and every one of you.

Christopher Boott – (DIRECTOR) – Christopher had obviously done his homework on this show and which was apparant throughout the performance. It had been very well cast with all the principals giving a good interpretation of their various roles, be it American or Russian. Staging was excellent with a well balanced stage at all times. He had also enthused his cast with a joy of performing which was obvious from the front. This was certainly one of the better productions of recent shows – Congratulations.

Trevor Defferd – (MUSICAL DIRECTOR) – Trevor had obviously worked hard with the cast ensuring that the music was ‘spot-on’, no easy task with music of this nature. There was an excellent balance of voices with good entries throughout. Orchestral wise, Trevor had gathered round him an excellent group of musicians who played the music as intended, and at the same time, being sympathetic to the performers. This was one of the better orchestra’s I have heard for some time – Well done.

Kim Antell & Isobel Stebbings – (CHOREOGRAPHERS) – The choreographers had devised some excellent routines that was in keeping with the chess theme.·The routines had been well rehearsed and looked most fffective from the front. I would like to take this opportunity to wish Isobel and her husband much happiness in Devon, she will be sorely missed.

Stage Manager & Crew – This was a well managed stage with smooth, swift and silent scene changes and with the majority of scenes being drops, worked very well avoiding any ‘pregant pauses’ as so often happens with numerous scenes changes in productions.

Lighting Design and Operation – This was a superb lighting design which enhanced this production, ensuring the the right atmosphere was generated in the numerous scenes – most atmospheric – On the night of my visit I detected no late cues – Well done.

Follow Spots – This aspect was well controlled and precise with no wavering, and well focussed.

Projectionist – The graphics projected during the chess matches were pertinent to the action. they were well focussed and brought up on cue which together with the moving chess pieces had an impact.

Sound – At long last I can say ”well done Hexagon staff’ for a well balanced sound control. The balance between the personal mike’s and the orchestra was spot-on and the balance could not be faulted. I only detected one late cue during the performance and that was on the entry of the ‘Arbiter’ which was quickly remedied.

Wardrobe – The wardrobe department had ensured that the cast appeared in the correct costumes which denoted well the· styles of the time both in Russia and America. This was a good costume plot – Well done.

Scenery & Furniture – Supplied by Scenery Hire Ltd of Newport – The scenery was minimal, but very effective, relying mainly on drops· for the various scenes together with small inserts which allowed swift scene changes throughout and therefore avoiding all the pregnant pauses one associates with this show. The furniture supplied by this company fitted the period and various styles and looked good on stage.

Make-up – The make-up plot had been wen devised and its application could not be faulted ensuring that it looked authentic under the stage lighting.

Programme – A neat programme of the right size, printed on good quality paper. It contained many items of interest with a good synopsis of the show. Cast photographs and biographies were well presented, all contained within an attractive and eye-catching cover.

Front of House – The usual high standard was maintained by the Sainsbury Singers Front of House staff, easily identifiable, friendly and welcoming without being intrusive.

Thank you for inviting me to review your latest production “Chess” and your excellent hospitality. This was a most enjoyable production which I thoroughly enjoyed and wish you all success with your future productions.

Henry Hawes NODA Representative – Area 13