Tag Archives: Joey Hickman

Assassins

Assassins

★★★★★

Watermill Theatre

Assassins

Assassins

Watermill Theatre Newbury

Reviewed – 30th September 2019

★★★★★

 

“knocks the socks off the original cast recording”

 

“Attention must be paid”. Towards the end of his musical ‘Assassins’, which had a triumphant performance at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury last night, the legendary Stephen Sondheim quotes this line from Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’.

‘Assassins’ is a musical that asks just exactly what would make ten Americans want to kill eight Presidents, from Lincoln to Reagan. The answer lies in that quote, which neatly also describes the audience’s rapt concentration during a quite extraordinary show. And if you are thinking that the killing of presidents and the fate of their would-be assassins is a rather macabre subject for a musical, be re-assured. Although it carries a 14+ advisory, this is an altogether entertaining and most thought-provoking show.

The Watermill has a history of championing eight times Tony award-winning Sondheim, whose work is held in such awe that even the most august critics are reduced to scrabbling autograph hunters in his presence. ‘Assassins’ is by no means his best-known work, but it is perhaps his most intriguing.

Not long into the piece, which had its premiere off-Broadway in 1990, the character of the Balladeer (here played with great presence and likeability by Lillie Flynn) sings “Every now and then the country goes a little wrong. Every now and then a madman’s bound to come along” And if you are thinking that line has more than a little resonance today, I suspect Sondheim would agree with you.

Space is tight at the Watermill, making any performance an intimate and involving experience. Director Bill Buckhurst has cleverly used a Coke machine to replace the fairground shooting gallery specified in the script, and Simon Kenny’s set design is starkly effective, with some ingenious twists towards the end.

It’s a little invidious to highlight standout performances in such a tight ensemble work, but several deserve special mention. Steve Simmonds’ has two brilliantly intense monologues as Samuel Byck, who planned to hijack a 747 to kill Nixon. Zheng Xi Yong gives a sinuous and wonderfully committed performance as Giuseppe Zangara who attempted to assassinate FD Roosevelt.

Evelyn Hoskins (Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme) and Sara Poyzer (Sarah Jane Moore) have some excellent scenes. Poyzer plays a cookie ex-Fed, nicely contrasting with Hoskins’ weed-toting take on mass-murderer Manson’s moll. Eddie Elliott has a powerful charisma as Charles Guiteau, especially in the difficult key-changing number he sings so brilliantly just before his character walks to the gallows. Joey Hickman has a menacing glassy-eyed demeanour as the Proprietor of this captivating parade of human failings. Alex Mugnaioni is eerily compelling as ‘the pioneer’ – the first Presidential assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Ned Rudkins-Stow has the task of bringing to life John F Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. The traumatic impact of this murder on the American mindset resonates to this day, and Rudkins-Stow’s lean interpretation makes it crystal clear that Oswald was a simple-minded victim of manipulation.

Catherine Tyler is responsible for the compelling orchestration, which makes the most of the entire cast’s astonishing musical abilities, requiring some of them to play one instrument whilst holding another, and to jump seamlessly from drums or keyboard to appearing centre stage. Expert choreography by Assistant Director Georgina Lamb ensures it all works smoothly.

This version of ‘Assassins’ knocks the socks off the original cast recording and is strongly recommended.

 

Reviewed by David Woodward

Photography by The Other Richard

 

Assassins

Watermill Theatre Newbury until 26th October

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Burke & Hare | ★★★★ | April 2018
A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★★ | May 2018
Jerusalem | ★★★★★ | June 2018
Trial by Laughter | ★★★★ | September 2018
Jane Eyre | ★★★★ | October 2018
Robin Hood | ★★★★ | December 2018
Murder For Two | ★★★★ | February 2019
Macbeth | ★★★ | March 2019
Amélie | ★★★★★ | April 2019
The Importance Of Being Earnest | ★★★★ | May 2019

 

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
★★★★★

Southwark Playhouse

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 17th May 2019

★★★★★

 

“a thoroughly fascinating, moving and evocative piece of theatre”

 

Written in 1922 by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is just one of many short stories that comprise his “Tales of the Jazz Age” collection; though undoubtedly one of the better-known. Fitzgerald was inspired by Mark Twain who lamented the fact that the best part of life came at the beginning and the worst part at the end. Fitzgerald tried to turn this idea on its head, but instead discovered that youth and old age are mirrors of each other. A witty and insightful satire it tells the story of Benjamin Button who is born an old man and mysteriously begins ageing backwards. At the beginning of his life he is withered and worn, but as he continues to grow younger he embraces life, falls in love, goes to war, has children, goes to school and eventually, as his mind begins to devolve again, returns to the care of his nurses.

A difficult tale to categorise, but at its heart it is a fantasy. A fairy-tale. A love story underpinned by a mysterious curse. Writer Jethro Compton with composer Darren Clark have embraced that heart and transplanted it into a Cornish folk tale to produce a thoroughly fascinating, moving and evocative piece of theatre. The story is told in a time-honoured fashion by the five characters, washed up on the rugged Cornish coast. And the music emerges naturally from the ebb and flow of the narrative as though one cannot exist without the other. This extends to the five cast – all master story tellers and multi-instrumentalists – who perform, move, act and sing together as one. You can hear it in their harmonies which are breathtakingly beautiful.

Whatever liberties have been taken with Fitzgerald’s story, in my mind, only improve on the original. Spanning most of the twentieth century, the epic structure fits perfectly into the small-town Cornish setting. This is ‘Under Milk Wood’ meets ‘Sliding Doors’ as we are shown how the smallest chain of events can change a life irrevocably – for better or for worse. The show is a conjuring trick where seventy years are crammed into two hours and over forty characters into the five actors onstage. With Chi-San Howard’s choreography it is a master class in dexterity.

When not behind the piano, guitar, accordion, drum kit, Matthew Burns and Joey Hickman have the lion’s share of the roles. Meanwhile, James Marlowe completely nails the unenviable task of portraying Benjamin Button reversing from sixty to twenty with an outstanding performance (the very old and the very young Benjamin are puppets forged from the flotsam and jetsam of the Cornish beach). Like a broken clock that tells the right time twice a day, he finds true love twice in his life. With the same person: Philippa Hogg and Rosalind Ford play respectively (among a myriad other characters of course) the young Elowen, whom he marries and the older Elowen with whom he is reunited; and it is these two who steal the show and provide the most haunting and beautiful moments. And with Ford’s cello, Hogg’s violin and their combined voices, I defy anyone to remain dry eyed throughout the evening.

This is quite a sensational piece of musical theatre that takes a curious tale and adds its very own eccentricities. The only minor quibble is that it is just a bit too long, but that said, the magic sustains from start to finish. Or from finish to start, whichever way you want to look at it.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography courtesy Jethro Compton Productions

 


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Southwark Playhouse until 8th June

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The Trench | ★★★ | October 2018
Seussical The Musical | ★★★★ | November 2018
The Funeral Director | ★★★★★ | November 2018
The Night Before Christmas | ★★★ | November 2018
Aspects of Love | ★★★★ | January 2019
All In A Row | ★★ | February 2019
Billy Bishop Goes To War | ★★★ | March 2019
The Rubenstein Kiss | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Other People’s Money | ★★★ | April 2019
Oneness | ★★★ | May 2019

 

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