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Credit: Richard Davenport
Credit: Richard Davenport

64 Squares, New Diorama – Review

Pros: Moving and disciplined performances which capture the audience’s attention.

Cons: None to speak of!

Pros: Moving and disciplined performances which capture the audience’s attention. Cons: None to speak of! The New Diorama is a lovely and welcoming venue tucked behind a flashy bank building on Euston road. You could easily mistake it for a trendy and modern café, but do not be fooled. On a blustery and autumnal Wednesday evening, I headed there for a performance of Rhum and Clay’s 64 Squares. Rhum and Clay are a touring physical theatre company, who devise and create their shows collectively. In this instance, they used Austrian wartime writer Stefan Zweig’s novella The Royal Game as…

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Rating

Unmissable!

A complex and layered piece exploring themes of memory and identity.

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The New Diorama is a lovely and welcoming venue tucked behind a flashy bank building on Euston road. You could easily mistake it for a trendy and modern café, but do not be fooled. On a blustery and autumnal Wednesday evening, I headed there for a performance of Rhum and Clay’s 64 Squares.

Rhum and Clay are a touring physical theatre company, who devise and create their shows collectively. In this instance, they used Austrian wartime writer Stefan Zweig’s novella The Royal Game as a starting point. As you may have guessed, one of the principal themes of both the written work and the performance devised by the company is chess. But 64 Squares is about much more than a game: more importantly, it uses chess as a springboard to explore complex themes of memory, identity and the horrors of the advent of WWII.

64 Squares is performed by four people: three actors, who take turns to play the main character, B., and a drummer who provides a vital engine to drive the piece along. All four of them represent different aspects of B.’s personality, as he tries to recall and piece together the important events of his life in his final moments before death. What starts off as a seemingly innocuous story of a passenger on a cruise ship playing a game of chess against a fellow guest, who happens to be a world champion, soon reveals darker undertones. Slowly, we come to understand that B. is a deeply damaged person, who has lost his sense of self at the hands of the Gestapo after the annexation of Austria in the late 1930s. We discover that chess was in fact a means of mentally escaping his desperate and heartbreaking situation.

The cast of the show do an amazing job at recreating B.’s mind. By sharing lines and talking over each other, they mimic the mental discussion one has when trying to recall a memory. One particular strength is their ability to act out the mental process of trying to remember something, recreating the same scene over and over but with slight differences, as B. tries to pin down exactly what happened. Never before have I seen someone act out so well the feeling of a recollection fading away just before the important moment, with the characters becoming physically floppy and droopy just before a crucial event can be concluded. And the drum beats provide a backing to give the show rhythm and pace, meaning that there was never a dull moment. The cast of Julian Spooner, Matthew Wells, Roisin O’Mahon and Fred McLaren were incredibly well disciplined and captured the audience’s attention with every detail of their performance.

All in all, 64 Squares is a moving and thought-provoking production. It uses chess as a base to consider far more difficult and subtle themes, and this is achieved through a disciplined and talented cast. And with a rollicking pace provided by a live percussionist, it is a production which will have you sitting on the edge of your seat. The only issue is that you might feel it is over too soon, but then there will certainly be plenty to discuss at the pub afterwards!

Created by: Rhum and Clay Theatre Company
Based on the Novella by: Stefan Zweig
Director: Christopher Harrison
Designer: Amelia Jane Hankin
Producer: Sarah Wilson
Box Office: 020 7383 9034
Booking Link: http://newdiorama.com/whats-on/64-squares
Booking Until: 21 November 2015

About Louie Corpe

Louie Corpe
Louie is the co-founder and joint managing editor of Everything Theatre. He met James at university, and this event definitively changed his life for the worst. These days he a Ph.D. student in particle physics working on the Higgs boson's decay to two photons (seriously). He claims that theatre is his only release from an existence of signal-to-background ratios, selection efficiency and C++ programming. His particular preference is for well-executed site-specific productions and anything by Tom Stoppard. He has been widely misquoted as saying he "hates musicals". This is not true. He simply has not yet come across a musical he hasn't disliked.