Rhum and Clay’s stunningly Brechtian meditation on the nature of fate through the metaphor of Chess
This article is from 2015.
Adapted from Stefan Zweig's The Royal Game and directed by Chris Harrisson, 64 Squares follows a journey from an office in Vienna to a fateful match of chess against the undefeated world champion aboard the opulently oddball S.S. Triumphant. The protagonist – known only as B – is played by all four members of the ensemble,representing his fragmented mind and disorientated identity.
The facts about B are few: he is an Austrian Jew, former accountant, part-time unreliable narrator, and very rarely a player of chess. The metaphor of a chess game and the complex set of variables and consequences that originate from each move are used to explore the myriad and chaotic futures of a life in crisis. Each actor spools through B's history of moves to find the point where the critical mistake was made.
The production is well-served with excellent performances and peppered with expressionistic touches. The company evoke a cavalcade of grotesque characters, from the high flying squawks of a hot-shot aviator to the ominous Mirko Czentovic, at times more an overcoat than a man, the reigning world champion, and the 'peasant champion' at the game of kings.
Rhum and Clay's athletic and dynamic production keeps events in constant motion with a light-footed ensemble and stylish Brechtian stagecraft all set to an accompanying whirl of percussion like the workings of a great theatrical machine. In taking the structure of chess match from a speculative opening (a drawing of battle lines), a tactical mid-game (in which plans are concocted) and the finality of an endgame, 64 Squares carves out an order amongst the shifting thoughts of its hive-minded protagonist. The production maintains a breakneck energy and motion, powering through a potentially muddling sequence of times, dates, details, and chess mechanics.
This does however leave relatively little breathing room for emotional development, for the protagonist is as much at odds with the deteriorating, disintegrating forces of memory as they are with their esteemed world champion opponent, as they candidly admit: 'This is my mind … Sorry about the mess'. But the thrill of 64 Squares lies foremost in the intellectual and formal structures and it is a crystalline work of stagecraft.
Underbelly Cowgate (Venue 61), until 30 Aug (not 18), £9 (£8). 0844 545 8252