‘Chess’ is one of the stranger musicals around. Written by Tim Rice and the two blokes from ABBA it started out as a hit album, with two big singles in the UK, then became a mildly successful London West End production, and was then hugely rewritten to become a Broadway flop. The general opinion is that the songs are excellent, but is let down by a ‘difficult’ main story, so there have been a number of attempts to put together new productions to try to get the balance right. None have had any significant success.

I’ve been a fan of the original album for years, but never had a chance to see a production. However, that looks like it’s about to change, as the latest rescue attempt is an Estonian version. It opened in Tartu last summer, and I’ve seen a few billboard signs for it around Tallinn. However, I can’t tell yet whether it’s going to be playing here, or whether they’re just advertising this year’s performances in Tartu!

Estonia has a long history as a chess country, and one of the all time great chess players, Paul Keres, is a national hero (and apparently the only chess player to appear on a country’s banknotes). So perhaps Tim Rice’s complaint that although Chess is as good as anything he’s ever written, people generally aren’t intelligent enough to understand it, won’t carry as much weight here.

Even if it’s not going to be playing in Tallinn, Tartu isn’t that far away, and it will be playing irregularly there between February and May. So hopefully I’ll be able to persuade someone to come visit me whilst it’s on, for what will no doubt be a slightly bizarre night’s entertainment!

A Show with Everything but Yul Brynner

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