Reviewed – 22nd March 2018
“a commendable production of a show that seems more significant than ever”
As we are in the midst of shaky political times, where uncertainty is widespread, and volatile tyrants lead some of the world’s most powerful nations, it seems only right to revive a musical that follows the anger and frustration of citizens who put all their blame on the heads of their government. Stephen Sondheim’s darkly humorous Assassins, whose last London revival was three years ago, now comes to the Pleasance Theatre with a highly pertinent, and thought-provoking adaptation. It is one of the King of Broadway’s less well-known productions, yet, it still blends some of Sondheim’s most recognisable qualities of bringing challenging yet powerful stories to the foreground.
Starting as a murderous fairground game that offers the gun-slinging attempt to ‘Hit The Prez’, it unfolds into the true-life tales of the nine men and women who have tried, or, succeeded in assassinating the President of the United States. Set in the Vaudeville/Revue-style of yesteryear, we in turn focus on each person’s story, getting a better understanding as to his or her motivations. Whether it is fame, notoriety, delusion, or simply a troublesome stomach pain, each assassin has a reason for wanting to strike.
The use of a brilliant revolving stage helped to establish the swift variety performance style, yet there were moments, particularly halfway through, where the pace seemed to be lacking. Musical Director Jordan Clarke did a fine job at leading the small group of musicians through Sondheim’s demanding score, whilst the rather large cast all gave commanding performances, with not one weak link. Particular standouts were Andrew Pepper as Charles Guiteau, whose eccentric characteristics resembled that of crooked Fagin, and Alfie Parker as Samuel Byck, whose one-sided rant into a tape recorder, meant for Richard ‘Dick’ Nixon, is a standout scene.
A nod to Donald Trump is made towards the end, which rather forcibly and heavy-handedly reminds the audience that this show is relevant to the present climate. Anyone with half a brain could already make the connection, so it feels like an unnecessary gimmick, however, regardless of the unwarranted ending, this is a commendable production of a show that seems more significant than ever.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Pleasance Theatre until 8th April