Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Chess Dramaturgy: Richard McElvain @ Edfringe 2017

Imprisoned by Nazi’s, a stolen book of chess becomes his source of escape –
or madness.

Theatre Omnibus presents

By Richard McElvain

The Fringe tested, Theatre Omnibus presents the world premiere of THE CHESS PLAYER by Richard McElvain based on the classic novella by Stefan Zweig.

C Primo                         Tickets: All tickets £10 (£8)
Dates: 2-28 Aug 2017
12:00 (1h 15min)

Imprisoned in solitary confinement by Nazis, a stolen book of chess games becomes the prisoner’s only way to cling to sanity. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I teach Theatre as well as work professionally. Every three years I bring a show performed by my students to The Fringe. Two summers ago I was there with a new play they created inspired by The Faust myth called FAUSTED. I was totally busy so I could not look at the programme so I asked my students "What should I see?". 

They told me to see 64 SQUARES and gave me a brief primmer on Stefan Zweig (So convenient to have students who are smarter, more informed than you). 64 SQUARES  was very loosely based on THE CHESS PLAYER. I saw it and loved it but thought nothing more of it until a couple weeks later while visiting friends in Paris and low and behold there was a one man show based much more closely on the Zweig novella. 

I saw it. Didn't love it, although it has good aspects. And a seed sprouted in my imagination, wondering how the story could be more successfully told. As chance would have it I was looking to develop a solo piece. One day I heard a "clank" in my head and images appeared and I said "That's how it would work". And I started writing. 

It's a great story but as I wrote I realized there was a larger issue that compelled me about the piece, that of image and illusion and how it is central to our lives. 

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?

Perhaps it's the best place. Because we are all really there at the same moment.  

How did you become interested in making performance?

In my life or for this piece? Theatre clamped down on me when I was in my teens and has never let go. And as I did more and studied more I have found a seeming infinite variety of way of using theatre in it's permutations to express ideas and feelings and issues that are important to me.

I have done a lot of solo performance work both as an actor and as a director. It is a form I return to periodically and the siren was calling as I watched the show in Paris.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

As we all know, every show is its own book of rules, it's own game to be played. 

I did go to Vienna and walked the Zweig walk. This was very enriching for me. 

As I wrote I wanted to make it as active as possible and not narrative (the pitfall of the Paris production) so I try to make it all happening at the moment. I am also trying to break a lot of rules with this show. The fourth wall takes a horrible beating in the show and I reach to keep throwing the audience off guard as to what their role in the event of the play is.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

What's a "usual production" again?

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope they will be compelled by a good story. I hope at times they will feel uncomfortable in the best sense. With luck it will kick some doors open in their understanding of the essential experience of theatre.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

You want me to give them all away?

Fighting madness, he chooses schizophrenia, surviving by dividing his mind into two feuding chess masters. 

After his escape, the play’s climax brings him to a chess grand tournament. There, he dares himself to walk the edge of a volcano of madness as he challenges the greatest chess player in the world to a match in Richard McElvain’s world premiere of Zweig’s harrowing tale.

Written and performed by award winning actor Richard McElvain, THE CHESS PLAYER blazes through this blistering saga of survival finally ruined by hubris. 

In the U.S., he received the Elliot Norton Award (Boston’s Tonys) and The Independent Reviewers of New England Award for his performance of another One-Man-Show, Conor McPherson’s SAINT NICOLAS.   He has also played Tartuffe in TARTUFFE (twice), Macbeth in MACBETH, Galileo in Brecht’s GALILEO, Harry Cohn in ANGELS IN AMERICA Parts I and II, and George in WHOSE AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLFE among many other roles.  Richard has also appeared in films with Jennifer Lawrence, Cher, Wynona Ryder, and Bob Hoskins.

Richard has created successful stage adaptations of the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Washington Irving, O Henry and Saki, as well as his own adaptation of Sophocles ANTIGONE in which he played Creon. He has translated and directed four plays of Moliere.

1 comment :

  1. Looking forward very much to seeing this performance. McElvaine never disappoints.