In chess, one move can change the whole game. In ’64 Squares’, chess is a metaphor for life. The play opens with four people on stage; three actors and a musician. The three actors finish each other’s sentences, with the musician drumming alongside their words, adding a jazzy feel to the production. The three actors tell the audience that they are called ‘B’; they don’t know this per se, but assume it, as they are all wearing identical tops with a B sewn on to them.
B finds himself onboard a ship in 1939, challenging the Chess World Champion for a game. As the game is played, the audience learns more about B’s past through a series of flashbacks. Not only do these flashbacks add a new dimension to the play, but also add variety of performance. Some are performed with shadow puppets, others in dance, and others just spoken alongside the drum (also played in an equally diverse way). One of the most important memories in his life, his hand brushing against his secretary’s hand in his Berlin office, is performed with such eloquence. It is repeated four times in the space of a few minutes, each time exactly the same.
This repeated scene is acted in such an effective way that it creates a mixture of emotions for the viewer; warmth at their romantic connection, frustration at why B lets this touch distract him so much, and I even found myself laughing at their exaggerated facial expressions that continue to entertain throughout the play. Alongside all of these feelings, however, there is one of angst. A feeling that something is about to go wrong, that keeps us on the edge of our seats as we watch. This seems to be the feel of the play in general, that we laugh at B’s silly faux pas, and feel connected to B as we learn more about him, but most heavily, we feel a sense of anxiety.
This anxiety is felt not only because of the many unanswerable questions one wants to ask about B when watching, but also due to the ability of the audience to connect so much with the character and the script. Just as B struggles to remember his past and how he ended up on the ship, the audience is forced to think about the message of the play. The message that every action we take changes the direction of our lives, even if only slightly—that all of our pasts have a direct effect on our present and our futures. Performed with beautiful fluency, every word and action in place, and the overlapping dialogue with music and actions, it certainly kept the audience gripped for the entirety. The script is wonderfully put together, creating a new and atmospheric view on the human condition and freewill, but performing it in a somewhat more lighthearted manner than other plays that we may see with the same existential framework.