Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Sondheim's Assassins at the Hayes

A fabulous if chilling performance .Here's what I said for Artshub



Assassins is a carousel inhabited by the killers and would-be killers of American presidents.
Image: Kate Cole and Bobby Fox in ASSASSINS. Photograph (c) Phil Erbacher.
We enter the rather bleak and surreal world of Sondheim’s Assassins. In a dilapidated fairground shooting gallery an uneasy group of misfits gather. They are quite a diverse ensemble, including one dressed in a 19th century frock coat, another as a department store Santa. Each has an obsession or problem they need to solve and each has found the answer – they must shoot the President of the United States!
Assassins is a carousel inhabited by the killers and would-be killers of American presidents. 
Over the course of the show we learn of the many varied and unusual ways that each has committed (or attempted to commit) the dastardly crime. Their motivations and their desire to be recognised for their actions in a world where they are mostly ignored and dismissed and treated as invisible.
David Campbell as John Wilkes Booth stalks the stage magnificently and gives an intensely charismatic performance.  Booth wants to provide his version of events: he did what he did for his country, slaying a tyrant – like Brutus in ancient Rome. Booth is in effect the anchor of the show in partnership with the Balladeer, linking the sparkling song and dance episodes and storytelling.
Bobby Fox as Charles Guitea is a frustrated office seeker who expressed his anger by shooting dead President James A. Garfield in 1881. Fox was handsome, lithe and dapper bringing the house down with his rendition of 'The Ballad of Guiteau (I am Going to the Lordy)'.
Maxwell Simon gives a terrific performance doubling as The Balladeer with his guitar for most of the show. He  introduces and comments on the other various characters (eg The Ballad of Booth).
Samuel Byck, an out-of-work tyre salesman attempted to assassinate President Richard Nixon by hijacking a plane and intending it to crash into the White House in 1974. Byck's character was excellently played  by Justin Smith. Byck has a monologue of a speech he records on tape that he wants to send to Leonard Bernstein and then a mad rant to President Nixon.
Martin Crewes was Giuseppe Zangara. Zangara attempted to assassinate President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt but shot Mayor Cermak of Chicago instead. (He shot at FDR because he had stomach pains and blamed Hoover for them, but it was too cold to go where Hoover was). Crewes gave a powerful, fierce and hypnotic performance.
John Hinckley Jnr (superficially ‘nice’ but underneath eerie and menacing as played by Connor Crawford) would be someone many of us remember for his obsession with Jodie Foster and his attempt on the life of Ronald Reagan in 1981. There is a splendid duet for Hinckley Jnr and Lynette Fromme 'I Am Unworthy of Your Love'. Hinckley sings to a photo of Foster while Fromme sings to a memento of her lover Charles Manson.
Fromme as played by Hannah Frederickson has huge intense eyes and uses them to effect.
Image: Connor Crawford and Hannah Fredericksen. Photograph (c) Phil Erbacher.
Sara Jane Moore, a five-times married FBI informer who tried to kill President Ford in 1975 to re-establish her radical credentials, was impressively played by Kate Cole. Moore and Fromme have a bitingly brilliant double act at one point.
Leon Czoglgosz (Jason Kos), a glass factory worker who regarded President William McKinley as the embodiment of wealth inequality. He was an anarchist under the spell of radical activist Emma Goldman (tall, imposing rather severe Laura Bunting). The Balladeer tells us his eventual fate in 'The Ballad of Czolgosz.
The music reflects the popular music of the various eras depicted and is excellently played by the hidden band led by Andrew Worboys.
In tandem with Ross Graham’s lighting the designs are extraordinarily effective. Alicia Clements crowds the stage with tawdry fairground remnants – WIN! as the neon light letters say –  and trucked pieces (a jukebox, a pinball table, a dodgem car) as well as various poster/photos of the assorted Presidents as changed by The Proprietor (Rob McDougall).
The stage itself is shiny and reflective and one notices the design of the rifle cross-hairs falling centre stage. The costume design – both modern and nineteenth century –  are also sensational. In tandem with Ross Graham’s lighting the designs are extraordinarily effective.  
Many performances have already sold out. Book now if you haven’t already. Dare I say kill for a ticket?
Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5

Book: John Weidman
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Laura Bunting, David Campbell, Connor Crawford, Martin Crewes, Kate Cole, Bobby Fox, Hannah Fredericksen, Jason Kos, Rob McDougall, Maxwell Simon, Justin Smith  
Hayes Theatre 15 September  – 22 October 2017 

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