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ARTS - Your Move, Mate - Mark Hoath Interview

Author: Darryn King
Monday, 12 May 2008
Chess and the Cold War – who’d have thought that this combination would make for a great 80s musical- Well, Tim Rice and the guys from ABBA did – speaking of strange combinations. Chess is a peculiar musical with a peculiar history… and great tunes. Darryn King spoke to director Mark Hoath.

Do you think the game of chess and the Cold War are pretty unconventional topics for a musical-
Haha. Well, I don’t know, there’s some pretty unconventional topics for musicals – you would’ve thought that TS Eliot and cats would’ve been a strange one, and trains in Starlight Express… It’s no stranger than some others!

It’s quite interesting if you’re a student of Cold War politics. If you look back to the history of the early ’70s where you had Bobby Fischer playing against Kasparov, East vs West, trying to get the upper hand, after the space race and the Cuban missile crisis…

Actually I think the really interesting thing about the show is that it was written by the guys who wrote all the music for ABBA.

There are a couple of different versions of the show…

That’s interesting in itself. When the show first came out in the West End in London, the Russian in the story won against the American. Of course, when the show got to America it had to be rewritten so that the American won, and when the Sydney production came out, it was neither of them.

Is that the one you’re doing-

No, we’re actually presenting pretty close to the original show. We’ve also got the rights to perform a song that wasn’t in the original production that was added during the American run.

I want to talk about the track I Know Him So Well, because a lot of people will be familiar with it without knowing the story behind it…

I Know Him So Well is occurring at a time when Florence, the Russian’s new girlfriend, and Svetlana, his wife, are forced into the same building – and they both want him back. But do they really know him at all- He does unpredictable things, and then you look at this with the background of chess: if you could predict what everyone’s moves were going to be, you’d be able to beat them. It’s his unpredictable nature on the chessboard that he applies to his love life – except he’s successful at chess but not no successful in his love life.

That’s a great analogy.
Whoever controls Florence, if you consider her to be the queen, the most powerful piece on the board, is the person who wins the game. It’s a quite well thought out dichotomy.

A lot of the plot relies on knowing the back-story – it’s not particularly well explained in the show. I think that’s the weakness of the show. The plot’s been tinkered with for various reasons – basically political reasons.

Is the fact there’s no definitive version of the musical liberating-

To some extent. You can’t change any dialogue unfortunately – you can rearrange the songs, which we did. We think our show has a stronger ending and things like that. As a director though, I would’ve loved to have brought out the back-story a lot more.

One of the problems with the show is that there’s no real introduction of these characters like there would be in a traditional musical.

Tim Rice seems to rely on characters we’re already familiar with, whereas here he’s got to do all the work himself – and he doesn’t do it…
I think you’ve probably got some credence there – people probably know about the last three days of Jesus’ life and are probably reasonably familiar with Eva Peron and Evita, whereas to some extent in Chess there’s no back-story that the audience can conceive before the starting point.

But, anyway, there are probably six or seven thousand people in Sydney who’d still want to see it performed in a grand way. We’ve got a cast of over 30 on stage, we’re doing the full orchestration, which is 25 – I’ve never seen an amateur production where there’s been an orchestra over 20. We’ve got a great venue, everyone’s been individually miced, so the sound should be absolutely fantastic. Certainly rehearsals are going exceptionally well – it looks like it’s going to be a great show.

WHAT: Chess
WHERE: Theatre Royal
WHEN: Thursday 8 – Saturday 17 May