Hampstead Theatre (venue)
14 December 2019 (released)
14 December 2019
Creating a play about the Spassky v Fischer World Tournament held in Reykjavik in 1972, comprising 21 matches would seem an unlikely candidate for a dramatic psychological drama. But when you consider the maverick nature and personality of Bobby Fischer and the fact that he might break the Russian stronghold over world chess and bring chess huge popularity, it makes perfect sense. The play becomes an battle of personalities and of nations during the Cold War, where suspicions and mistrust between America and Russia were at their height.
Tom Morton-Smith has created a play that focuses more on the behaviour and overwhelming demands of Fischer , portrayed by Robert Emms with such strength and clarity that the play comes to life when he is onstage. Particularly, when confronted by his mother (Regina played beautifully by Emma Pallant). Here we see touches of sensitivity before he relapses into his ego once more. There are some very strong scenes and excellent performances throughout, but the first act lacks the drive that in evident in the second.
Ronan Rafferty as Boris Spassky has such poise and control at the beginning of the contest ,but we then see how he succumbs to the panic and suspicions when the tournament starts to get away from him. His calm strength and gradual decline were perfectly played by Rafferty.
Director and Designer (Annabelle Comyn and Jamie Vartan ) perfectly capture the mood and atmosphere of this 'World', being confined in the suffocating walls of the tournament, only once catching a glimpse of the outside world of Iceland. What works very well, is the clever use of movement and other personal traits to illustrate the matches and conflict, rather than a static representation of the games. Also the stark moving walls of Vartan's set create a flow to the production that is punctuated with excellent projection and sound / music by Jack Phelen and Philip Stewart.
Having two male characters played by woman did jar as there was no other similar examples to make this casting seem appropriate, and the final scene in the airport with Spassky recalling how and why he was driven to become a chess master, felt out of place and too expositional in the final moments.
This play's relevance to the World today and its insight into a unique and disturbing period of history makes for a story worth telling, but at its current length feels a little overstretched.