64 Squares by Rhum and Clay. Photo credit: Richard Davenport.
Here is a short interview with Julian Spooner, co-artistic director of Rhum and Clay, about their production of 64 Squares currently showing at HOME.
When audiences go to see 64 Squares at HOME what can they expect to see?
We make theatre that is playful, visual and physical. Most of our work begins with physical improvisation and ensemble work, and at the heart of all our productions is a childlike sense of play and wonder. In 64 Squares audiences can expect a thrilling story told in a dynamic and innovative way. It’s funny and melancholic in equal measure.
Why did you choose to adapt Stefan Zweig’s Die Schachnovelle? Was your interest in chess or Nazi ideology or Zweig himself?
Our interest began with a desire to make a show based around a life lived through a chess game. We thought it would be interesting for a protagonist to see the different decisions they have made in life through the lens of decisions made in a chess game. After all, the possibilities and decisions in both chess and life are near infinite. Then we discovered in Zweig’s novella a wonderful exploration of the relationship between trauma and talent, and the repeating affects of memories. We became increasingly interested in Zweig himself after reading his autobiography “The World of Yesterday”. There is clearly so much of Zweig in his protagonist Dr B, a troubled soul fleeing fascism, that we felt the more we learnt of the man then the more we could construct our character.
When did you first read Die Schachnovelle?
I first read it about two years ago and it had a profound impact. It’s wonderfully stripped back and minimal in it’s writing style, and allows the reader to extrapolate and investigate for themselves. We had to work hard to make it into a dramatic text and so have taken big liberties with altering the structure of the story, whilst maintaining it’s distinctive atmosphere.
Could you comment on the challenges of adapting a literary text for the stage?
We’ve adapted a couple of novels and the biggest challenge is to make them gripping and thrilling. Most novels and written stories are slow burners as readers won’t finish them in one sitting, unlike a theatre show in which the story needs to be condensed and grab the attention of the audience from the opening moment. This means that we may have to jettison detail which one can only allow in a novel, but we also make sure that we maintain the true essence of the story. It teaches you to become an efficient storyteller.
Has the production given rise to any thoughts as to where you would place chess within human culture? Should chess be taught in schools?
With the rise of technology and computing I think chess has lost an element of its romance. At one point it was seen as a display of human intellect at its peak, but I’m not sure if it holds the same social or political resonance now. Even as a kid I remember watching Kasparov play on television, I’m not sure if even Magnus Carlsen (the current world champion) could find himself a prime time TV slot. Maybe it was IBM’s Deep Blue beating Kasparov that signalled the end of chess being seen as the pinnacle of the human mind and ingenuity.
Teaching chess in schools is probably a good idea, as it definitely enriches the mind as well as teaching kids about decision making and consequence. There will always be kids who find it out for themselves, and train alone for hours on end. Those will be the grand-masters of the future but you can’t make someone do it. They have to be obsessed.
Can you play chess? Do you have a favourite player?
I can play chess, but not to a very high standard. I’ve always enjoyed a casual game but it never obsessed me to the point where I would learn hundreds of openings or middle game combinations. Chess proficiency is a bottomless well, hours and hours of dedication are required to get anywhere close to being decent at it. That requires a unique kind of obsession that I reserve for creating and performing theatre rather than playing chess.
As I’m a child of the nineties I have to say my favourite player is Garry Kasparov. He was like the Michael Jordan of chess! Until a computer beat him.
64 Squares is showing at HOME until 12 October, details here.
Here are a couple of related posts at Jildy Sauce:
A review of Die Schachnovelle is here.
A review of the exhibition Stefan Zweig – Abschied von Europa, shown at the Theater Museum in Vienna about two years ago is here.