ON DAISYANNFL­ETCHER

The Scotsman - - Reviews -

When An­drew Pan­ton takes his place as artis­tic di­rec­tor of Dundee Rep this week, he’ll be pro­pelled by the en­ergy drummed up by the mu­si­cal theatre stu­dents of the Royal Con­ser­va­toire of Scot­land in his ex­hil­a­rat­ing pro­duc­tion of Chess.

This is the mu­si­cal writ­ten by Abba’s song­writ­ing duo Björn Ul­vaeus and Benny An­der­s­son with lyri­cist Tim Rice in which cold-war ten­sions be­tween the Soviet Unio­nandtheusa­a­reem­bod­ied by the fic­tional grand­mas­ters Ana­toly Sergievsky and Fred­die Trumper.

Per­haps it’s not a per­fect mu­si­cal – it seems un­cer­tain about whose story it’s telling – but its com­bi­na­tion of geopol­i­tics and pri­vate ro­mance en­gage the head and the heart and, in Pan­ton’s hands, it’s as as­sured as it is am­bi­tious.

With a raised stage of black mar­ble backed by a metal gantry that could be straight out of The Tube, de­signer Ken­neth Ma­cleod goes the full 1980s hog. The cos­tumes are all black polo necks, rolledup sleeves, big hair and shoul­der pads, and Grant An­der­son pro­vides a rock’n’roll light­ing plan to match. Even the video pro­jec­tions have an au­then­tic VHS fuzzi­ness.

But it’s not just a retro-fest. The stakes feel gen­uinely high be­tween Bar­ney Wilkin­son as an im­petu­ous Trumper, the blond cham­pion in chess­board white, and Jamie Pritchard as a surly Sergievsky, the black-clad op­po­nent try­ing to keep his cool un­der psy­cho­log­i­cal pres­sure. Both sing well and bring a sense of youth­ful chutz­pah and volatil­ity to their east-west clash.

If the words some­times get lost in the en­sem­ble num­bers, the large cho­rus is deftly chore­ographed by Dar­ragh O’leary, backed by David Higham’s vig­or­ous band.

The stand­out per­for­mance, though, is by Daisy Ann Fletcher as Florence Vassy, the chess-lov­ing PA who trans­fers her af­fec­tions from Trumper to Sergievsky but, here, never loses faith with the au­di­ence.

It’s not just the pu­rity of her voice, nor her ef­fort­less con­trol of tone and dy­nam­ics, it’s her win­ning com­bi­na­tion of mod­esty and open­ness that makes her a cap­ti­vat­ing pres­ence. Even be­fore her duet with Hayley Ver­valin’s com­mand­ing Svet­lana Sergievsky on I Know Him So Well, she has stolen the show. Re­mem­ber the name.

There’s an­other im­pres­sive per­for­mance in the Fes­ti­val Theatre’s stu­dio where Mary Jane Wells tells the true story of Danna Davis, a US army me­chanic who was raped by sev­eral mem­bers of her squadron be­fore serv­ing along­side her at­tack­ers dur­ing an Iraqi am­bush.

Hero­ine is a com­pelling story of re­silience and survival, told by Wells in her own script with tremen­dous as­sur­ance and vivid at­ten­tion to de­tail.

There are a cou­ple of flaws. By stick­ing to the real-life chronol­ogy, Wells deals with the two great mo­ments of dra­matic in­ter­est be­fore the half-way point, leav­ing a less com­pelling story of ther­apy and re­cov­ery un­til last. And in Su­san Wors­fold’s other­wise clean and fo­cused pro­duc­tion, the the­atri­cal en­ergy is re­peat­edly drawn off­stage to recorded voices mak­ing such un­nec­es­sary com­ments as, “Si­lence is a ter­ri­ble ac­com­plice.”

But with Matt Pad­den’s ex­cel­lent sound­scape putting us on edge and the un­sen­ti­men­tal po­etry of the script keep­ing us gripped, it’s a tough, im­pas­sioned show. MARK FISHER

It’s not just the pu­rity of her voice, nor her ef­fort­less con­trol of tone and dy­nam­ics, it’s her win­ning com­bi­na­tion of mod­esty and open­ness that makes her a cap­ti­vat­ing pres­ence

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