Writer / Director: Christopher Harrison and cast
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Memory is a strange thing; it is a link to everything a person has ever been, thought or experienced yet it can be manipulated, distorted or completely overwritten by alternate versions of the truth. The brain’s love of order shapes these stories into a linear narrative implying a progressive development from past to future, making memory, at best, an unreliably guide to assorted happenings. 64 Squares is the story of a chess game between the mysterious ‘B’ and the unbeatable Milko Czentovic in which B’s past bleeds into his match strategy.
It is 1939 on a cruise ship where this epic match is being fought, yet the audience is suddenly whisked back to 1938 when B was working in an office and about to embark on a love affair when the annexation of Austria leads to his arrest. The chess game resumes before time moves backwards again to B’s prison cell where he is questioned by the Gestapo. Little by little, and in random order, the fragments of B’s life are reassembled until the final chess pieces are in place and the winner of the epic match is revealed.
This goofy play is full of intriguing and clever techniques which keeps the audience on its toes throughout. The central character is played by three completely distinct actors at once (four if you count the drummer and they do) each one delivering part of the dialogue and re-enacting his memories before seamlessly switching with another. Although this story is entirely from B’s perspective, the three actors also play other cartoonish characters that flow in and out of B’s recollection. It sounds confusing but it works extremely well, fitting neatly with the stylised and physical nature of the play. Charlotte Dubery, Julian Spooner and Matthew Wells are engaging as the three aspects of B, nicely balancing their difficult rôle as one person with individuality in their spotlight sections.
The way this is constructed successfully shows how memories frequently obtrude into everyday life at random or inappropriate times. They are unbidden and uncontrolled which can give a fragmented feel to a person life, yet it is the repeated memories that give shape and form, acting as marker points in the development of self. Using the three actors to imply multiple versions of the individual at different points in time is fascinating and having them play all the other characters also reinforces the idea that memory cannot be objective – it selfishly imposes one perspective on the world.
The set is simple, a couple of scaffolding rigs made up to look like the bow of a ship and a bed, but these are used quite efficiently to keep the action flowing fast. The use of shadow effects is particularly impressive when B is making his way into the belly of the ship and when dreaming of chess pieces as they are projected around his sleeping form – adding to the slightly surreal feel of this work. It is quite short, 90 minutes in total including an interval, so there is scope here either to run it straight through, or to create more content for the second half – entertaining as it is, you leave wanting a little bit more. 64 Squares has lots of interesting points to make about memory and although it does tie things up a little too neatly at the end, the cast have created a highly engaging piece of theatre.
Runs until27 September 2014