Tag Archives: Peter Dukes




Watermill Theatre



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



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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Twelfth Night – 3 Stars


Twelfth Night

Wilton’s Music Hall

Reviewed – 13th September 2018


“It’s middle-of-the-road Shakespeare on display here though, with jokes found in physicality more than the text”


Wilton’s Music Hall is the perfect home for this fun and frivolous production of Twelfth Night, transferring after a popular run at the Watermill Theatre. The production oozes old-fashioned charm, and, with its talented troupe of actor-musicians performing a play so preoccupied with the power of music, is an energetic joy to behold.

Sir Toby Belch is our MC in ‘The Elephant Jazz Club’, and wittily guides us through some lovely swing numbers to kick off the show. Each cast member gets to show off some of their musical and dancing talents early on, and the range of instruments on show, and the number of instruments played by each member of the ensemble is incredible. For fans of swing covers of recent hits, this is the show for you. Orsino (Jamie Satterthwaite) charges recently shipwrecked twin-in-disguise Viola (Rebecca Lee) to woo the mourning Olivia on his behalf, little knowing that Viola actually loves him, and, as the show goes on, that Olivia is more interested in the servant than the master. This comedy is less about plot and more about antics, with Belch, Aguecheek and Feste providing enough mischief conning Malvolio (played with relish by Peter Dukes) to keep this audience roaring with laughter.

The songs, interwoven throughout, are gorgeous. Suits, hats and cigarettes are on full display to build the image of a twenties jazz club, and, though not providing a clear context for the story, nor adding anything other than a pretty aesthetic, the era seems to invite audiences to kick off their shoes and have some fun.

On the whole, the ensemble work hard and give energetic and exaggerated performances. Mike Slader makes for a comically over-the-top Aguecheek, reminiscent of a greasy Crispin Glover, and Dukes’ Malvolio is stoic and uptight, making his downfall (in all its drag glory) even greater to see. It’s middle-of-the-road Shakespeare on display here though, with jokes found in physicality more than the text, and most players’ delivery feels a little too theatrical and forced at times. A touch more variety in delivery, or belief in what is being said, may help the meaning to shine through clearer.

Lusciously lit in this beautiful space makes this production a hit though, and the audience were whooping and cheering raucously as the ensemble took their bows. Cracking comedy and tunes you can’t help tap your feet to are the order of the day, and this production delivers on all fronts.


Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich

Photography by  Matt Crossick


Twelfth Night

Wilton’s Music Hall until 22nd September



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