Fringe Theatre review: The Chess Player

The Chess Player | C primo (Venue 41) | Star rating: ***

When he’s captured by the Nazis, a homemade chess set – formed of a chequered blanket and pieces of bread – becomes an unlikely means of salvation for one desperate man.

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In a piece inspired by a novella by Stefan Zweig, writer-performer Richard McEkvain’s half-spoken, half-spat dialogue captures the feeling of being interrogated, isolated and alone, with no escape from either the surrounding four walls or the madness that lies within them. The many voices of a broken mind vie for attention in the repeated dialogue: “Bed”, “chair”, “table”, “basin”. The skeleton of a story spanning multiple time periods emerges, during which our narrator eventually finds freedom, but must then conquer his demons to enjoy chess again.

It’s a fascinating and moving story, although the cacophony of voices overwhelms the focus at times. The confrontational nature of McEkvain’s performance reaches breaking point when he steps out of the action to directly address the audience: “What’s the play about?” he demands. “Chess?” comes the tentative reply from a clearly uncomfortable audience member. There’s something self-satisfied about a piece all too keen to point out the themes of its own show – albeit one that, with the ring of a bell, explores bigger ideas through a much-loved game.

• Until 28 August. Today 12pm.