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”Ungern ’56”

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In the midst the Cold War, the US sends it’s best chess player to meet the USSR’s best player in Merano, Northern Italy. The American is a former child prodigy who formulated a new chess theory. He knows he is the best, but his relationship to Florence, a Hungarian refugee, is falling apart. The Russian is considering defecting during the game, leaving his wife, Svetlana, and children in a Moscow suburb.


In this song, we see the American and his girlfriend in an intimate hotel room. She can’t stand always having to make excuses for the superstar. She remembers the events in Hungary in 1956 that led to the Russian bolsheviks entering with tanks and seizing her father.


When this musical theatre premiered in London in 1986, during the height of the Cold War, chess was seen as an allegory of the tensions, where the Cold War itself was considered to be a manipulative game. On a personal level, I saw this production shortly after it premiered in Stockholm. It had a run in West End, and other places, before that, but those stage productions never really reached up to the original intent of the studio concept album from 1984, so the Swedish production was reworked completely.


When you’re sitting in the first row in that gorgeous theatre, and the Soviet tank comes rolling out on stage, making all the seats in the theatre shake, it is a massive experience. Suddenly, with the help of some theatre magic, you are transported to Hungary, 1956.




Below is a video of the same song, but with documentary images of what took place in Hungary in 1956.




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