PAWN, an entirely new and student-written musical, tells the bitter and bizarre tale of the 1978 World Chess Championship final. Overshadowed by the Cold War, it was possibly the worst tempered sporting event in recent history. The two candidates (one the golden boy of the USSR, the other a reviled defector) literally accused each other of cheating in ways ranging from ‘attempts at over-the-board hypnosis’ to ‘having secret messages sent in concealed in blueberry yoghurts’.
Set Design: Pawn, A New Musical
A new musical
Written by Sam Norman
Music by Aaron King
@ the EDINBURGH FRINGE 2016
15th - 20th August 7.30pm
Greenside @ Royal Terrace, Jade Studio
Edinburgh EH7 5AH, UK
Director and Producer Ella McCarthy
Musical Director Jacob Ewens
Design Ruth Spencer Jolly
Lighting Design Bethany Gupwell
Marketing Sam Norman
Production Assistants Ed McGovern, Phoebe McCarthy
Viktor Korchnoi Caleb Bester
Anatoly Karpov Laurence Belcher
Narrator / Queen / Bella Korchnoi Sammy Patrick
President Euwe Ruth Spencer Jolly
Emperor / Jose Charles Styles
Inventor / Dakila Sam Norman
Lackey / Chairman Brezhnev / Dr Zukhar Tobias Sims
Lackey / President Carter / Royal Vizier Joseph Stephenson
All other roles are played by members of the ensemble
Keys Jacob Ewens
Kit Christopher Cottell
Bass Xander Pike
Sax Josh Landsburgh
Professional Review by Broadway Baby
by Joseph McAulay on 19th August 2016
Created, written, and performed by students from Oxford University, Queenside Productions new musical Pawn is an impressive, if imperfect, piece of new student writing that, whilst not perfect, is still an interesting window into a peculiar period of time.
Focusing on the infamous 1978 World Chess Champion final between Soviet Golden Boy Anatoly Karpov and stateless defector Viktor Korchnoi, the musical charts the strange series of events that plagued the bitter confrontation including, hypnotists, blueberry yogurt, mirrored Sunglasses and pirate flags, all while the reputation of Korchnoi, and the safety of his family still held in the U.S.S.R., lies on the line.
As with many musicals the subject matter at hand is not one that seems to cry out for a singing and dancing stage adaptation, but here it works surprisingly well, avoiding the usual pitfalls that pieces of new writing often fall into. The arrangements are interesting and varied, and the lyrics, for the most part, are memorable, witty and do their job in progressing the story and giving a further insight into the psychological state of our characters whilst still bringing out the humour within the scenes. The script does a very impressive job in fact of establishing the motivations, relationships and backstory of our two chess rivals in its hour running slot whilst never feeling rushed or cramped. The cast show great talent with wonderful singing voices that easily reach the highs and lows required by the arrangements, whilst playing off and reacting with each other creating incredibly amusing moments. The greatest of these moments is a musical number where Korchnoi’s drunkard second fantasise about a life of luxury if only they defected to the soviets.
Despite all this, the show still feels shaky in parts, the choreography at times feels stiff and does not flow with the music and at several points the singers are drowned out by the band meaning that some of the lyrics are rendered inaudible even to those sitting in the front two rows. On top of this the plot at times has trouble settling on a tone: quite a lot of the show is very comedic and even cartoonish which makes attempts at sincerity or serious drama lack the resonance they need to have impact. The ending too is incredibly jarring, breaking the realism that play had built for itself so far, and entering conspiracy theory levels of speculation as to the events that shaped the end of the tournament.
These issues prevent the show from realising its full potential, but there is still enough here that proves enjoyable and clever; anyone with an interest in the subject should definitely head along to see it.
An off the charts show - a brilliantly sung show about a true story you couldn't make up it is so bizarre. I adored the tango when Korchnoi and Karpov danced together and am still singing it now. Who could believe that a 1978 world chess championship would be such good material for a musical? Exceptional band - I could have listened to that talented crew all evening, Congrats to the cast, band, director/designer/writer/composer and everyone who made this happen - hats off to Oxford students! will definitely be going back for a second sitting!
Interesting (Slightly off the wall) show in the best traditions of the fringe. Admirable that they wrote it themselves, and some very touching performances. Would thoroughly recommend it for anyone wanting something different to the same old comedy stand ups.
Hugely entertaining, cleverly styled and executed. Perfect quirky Fringe show . Well worth a go even just for the score!
Unquestionably the strongest show we saw at this year's Fringe. Talented young cast, great music, very slick set and scene transitions. I don't think I have anything to criticise about this musical. Wonderful story with exactly the right balance of comedy, drama and tragedy. If you only see one show at this year's Fringe, make sure it's this one.
A wonderfully quirky and entertaining, true-to-life musical account of a dramatic world chess championship during the Cold War. Odd characters and dirty tricks abound. Witty songs, interesting story, and some compelling staging and characters. If you enjoy learning about a fascinating moment in history and tapping your toes all at the same time, Go!
I know what you're thinking: this sounds suspiciously similar to that *other* musical about chess. In several ways, it is. Both shows center around personality conflicts in international chess tournaments in the late 20th century, the conniving tactics of the Soviets, and the vast political implications of all of the above. Both start with a synopsis of the history of the game.
What's pleasantly surprising is that this show's plot is far better than Tim Rice's inept libretto for Chess. In this story, there's a sympathetic protagonist (real-life chess master and Soviet escapee Viktor Korchnoi) who takes clever and decisive action, in contrast to Chess' ever-moaning, passive Anatoly. This is a David-versus-Goliath tale that's well-researched and pleasing as it unrolls in unexpected directions. The mood is dramatic but incorporates a refreshing element of humor - which is distinctly absent from that *other* show.
The score doesn't match the pop grandeur of Andersson and Ulvaeus's music, and the story is bound by real-life events which don't always give us the dramatic satisfaction of fiction. And the portrayal of Jimmy Carter is so wildly off-base that it's entertaining. But for all the rough edges, this is a smart, enjoyable musical that feels far more respectful of its subject matter than its famous precursor. Give it a shot.