In 1939, B finds himself on board a luxury cruise liner, playing against one of the world’s greatest chess champions during a storm. However, B is not one person – but four, and they’re all trying to remember how he got there.
When the four cast members enter, the unreality begins. Through ebbs and rushes of energy, drum beats and sweeping language, 64 Squares unfolds the story using themes of lost memories, identity and sanity.
An adaptation of Stefan Zweig’s The Royal Game from Rhum and Clay Theatre Company; Julian Spooner, Matthew Wells and Róisín Mahony physically play the character B, whilst Fred McLaren (also B) is the percussionist. The actors spin in and out of different characters, including each other’s, finishing the other’s movements and sentences with ease. As a physical theatre ensemble, the choreography is exceptional. The ambitious lifts, with Mahony flipped and carried about, are effortless. Chess moves are calculated as they become the pieces. A highlight is the rhythm created during the chess game through using physical choreography and various props, including the chess clock and the actors’ breathing.
The use of shadows is ingeniously creative. Using simple props and torchlight, these simple yet clever effects create striking visuals. McLaren creates the majority of the sound effects during the show using a mic, sound board and playing the jazz drums live. The sound design is excellent as it creates a disjointed and surreal atmosphere, especially when layered with drumming, the build up of the actors’ dialogue and flickering torchlight as B descends down the ship. Unfortunately, it’s relatively easy to forget McLaren is more than just a drummer as visual attention is rarely directed at him.
It’s surprisingly easy to accept the character being split into four people. However, it can be a little difficult to get into the play at the beginning as it’s slow to supply just enough information to the audience to avoid total confusion. As the story begins to make a little sense, it becomes fascinating.
The writing is beautiful with smooth transitions and links, and creative chess metaphors. Despite the bleakness of the pre-war setting, humour is scattered through the play and draws laughs from the audience.
As paper, memories and sound are strewn across the stage, chess becomes the way of fighting against the unreality of war – or perhaps losing one’s identity.