This one-man play about a prisoner during World War II is meticulously researched and exquisitely executed. Performed by Richard McElvain, the acting is impeccable which is no mean feat given he plays umpteen characters.
The Chess Player is an adaption of Stefan Zweig’s novella called The Royal Game. McElvain’s play follows a man as he is kept prisoner and interrogated by Nazis during the Second World War. Slowly losing his mind he needs something to keep him sane. He nicks a book on chess tournaments, learns the game and begins to battle a second personality within himself. After escaping the prison, the culmination sees the protagonist challenge the world’s best chess player. Surviving insanity is the main theme of this play – how do you tame your mind when there is nothing to occupy it? It’s food for thought in how one would cope in that kind of circumstance, made all the more harder knowing people were – and currently are – in these conditions.
While The Chess Player is wonderful it would help if one had actually read the novella. At times the multiple characters can become confusing given the quick changes. McElvain’s characterisation of each is individualised so usually it’s easy to figure out who’s who. Still, the fast-paced dialogue is where you have to really concentrate.
McElvain’s acting is easily the star of the whole show. A professional actor himself, he exudes despair and anxiety during the interrogation, leaving the audience on edge and horrified at what’s happening.
Minimal props, one-track lighting and a meticulous soundtrack provide much of the dark atmosphere. The small theatre at C Venues on Hill Street add to the intimacy, especially when McElvain asks the audience questions and looks them right in the eyes.
It’s a cleverly brought together play. However, you won’t come out of it feeling upbeat.