Legend has it (according to the ancient Book of Kings) that chess was originally invented by the sages of an Indian queen, when one of her sons, Talhand died in battle against the other, Gav. The board was used to recreate the battle to prove to her that no matter how the battle had been played out, one of the two men inevitably would have died. “Checkmate” originates from the Persian phrase “Shah Mat” and translates to mean, “The King has died”.
Having been fascinated by this story since I was a child I was extremely excited when reading the synopsis of A Game of Chess. The seemed full of possibilities, and I was intrigued to find out how the director and writer would draw the parallels between the game and the action, as a husband and wife play a game of chess to decide if he will live or day.
I was, however, rather disappointed. Instead of using the chess match as a tool to forward the play, it almost seemed like a crutch. The game was mostly ignored in the plot line and it seemed to me its only purpose was to give a reason for the play to exist at all. In between rushed moving of pieces, the game was abandoned to make room for a repetitive series of arguments between the husband and wife. While Andonis Doriadis’ script had some lovely lines in it, on the whole the play stood still and the only difference between the end of the first argument that took place in the first five minutes and the end of the play, was that the game of chess had ended.
The relationship between the two characters suffered because of this, and I found it uncomfortable to watch at times. Any physical contact made between the pair was more awkward than affectionate and I struggled to invest at all in their relationship, which made it difficult to care when they argued and made up (which happens far to many times throughout the show). However, one thing I was impressed by was Marco Aponte’s physicality. Bound to a wheelchair, he never looked uncomfortable or stuck in it, maneuvering in and out of the chair, as well as around the stage with complete ease. Not once did I doubt the characters disability, which is not an easy feat, and was one of the main things continuously pulling me into the world of the play.
Furthermore, something I must congratulate the cast on may see slightly off topic, but I feel has to be mentioned. Theatre etiquette is something that is being flagged up more and more these days, by many members of the industry (Patti LuPone and Benedict Cumberbatch most famously). I have been in a theatre when a phone has gone off and suddenly found myself yanked out of the world of the show and back into reality. Yet, never have I been in the presence of someone who’s phone not only went off, but they picked it up and began replying to messages during a performance. This was the case with the woman in front of me (who happened to be sat in the front row) multiple times throughout the one-hour show. I cannot possibly fathom how someone could think this was an acceptable way to act at the theatre yet, I can’t commend the actors highly enough for continuing on, seemingly un-phased by this unbelievably rude and selfish audience member. It showed professionalism and craft, even though they should not have had to be subject to the disturbance in the first place.
Overall, I felt that the play did not live up to the potential of the concept, and therefore while there were moments that the characters and the story shone, the lack of a journey in the play predestined the actors and director to struggle with creating any sort of journey for the characters.
Review by Kara Taylor Alberts
A Game of Chess
By Andonis Doriadis
Directed by George Eugeniou
A man and a woman fight for life and death through a game of chess. The man, a once-successful architect, is now paralyzed from an accident and does not want to live anymore. The only thing in his way is his loving partner, the woman, who is desperate to keep him alive. This psychological drama raises existential questions about love, life and death. “There is always a sacrifice to be made”, he says. These lovers, hell-bent on getting their way, put all the stakes on one last game of chess. The winner will decide if the man lives or dies. Through an intense game of exploration, stories and strategy, there is—at the end—a winner.
5th to 16th April 2016