When tickets for Assassins first went on sale I bought tickets immediately, this was for several reasons.
- The score to Assassins is written by my favourite composer of all time, Stephen Sondheim and although I knew the music for Assassins I had never seen it performed.
- Assassins was going to be at the Menier Chocolate Factory. This was a venue I had heard lots about, but never visited, it was time to put that right.
- It was to be directed by Jamie Lloyd, I had recently seen Urinetown which he had directed and absolutely loved it. As probably the most talked about director in London this year, I wanted to see more of his work.
If all that wasn’t enough, as the cast was announced and tickets sold out, it confirmed my belief that this production had the potential to be great and I was so pleased I had made the secured the tickets.
The only thing that concerned me was the subject matter. ‘Assassins’ tells the story of the 13 people who have tried to kill the President of the United States including the four who succeeded. Politics again? Really? I am ignorant enough about English politics, what hope would I have with American?
By the end of the night I had been educated, this was not however a heavy history lesson. Set in a fairground as a ‘hit and miss’ shooting game, the Assassins gather to explain and discuss their reasons behind their attempts to murder the president with each other.
Their reasons vary. Apart from the obvious political reasons there were other reasons too. John Hinckley (Harry Morrison) for example shot President Reagan to gain an actresses attention and Charles Guiteau (Andy Nyman) as a reaction to not getting a job in the White House amongst others.
I wasn’t aware that amongst the 11 assassins there were two females, Lynette Fromme (Carly Bawden) and Sarah Jane Moore (Catherine Tate) both of which attempted to shoot President Ford.
But enough of the history lesson. Sondheim usually gives a tale a twist and this is no exception, as each attempt on the President’s life takes place the assassins are rewarded fairground style with either a disappointing miss or a celebratory ticker tape display. The assassins and react and support each other ultimately persuade Lee Harvey Oswald (Jamie Parker) that killing a president would solve all his problems.
It sounds bizarre, and it is. But that is part of the charm of Assassins. John Weidmans’ book means that you learn, you are entertained, you are bewildered with their motives but as the same time you begin to understand their thinking a little bit. I was bowled over by the whole production.
Not surprisingly in my opinion, Assassins is musically superb, the music is provocative, each song reflecting the era in which the attempted assassination took place.
The quality of the performances is absolutely first rate. I know it is a cliché but there were no weak links. Simon Lipkin is the weird fairground proprietor, He narrates the story by goading and provoking the assassins to tell their tales. I struggle to name stand out performers because they were all so superb. Aaron Tveit who plays John Wilkes Booth and Catherine Tate, I guess were the big names but this is such an ensemble piece that it really made no difference. Jamie Lloyd has done it AGAIN!
Go, GO, GO….this finishes on the 7th March….. GO!
Update : Assassins made number 2 in my top theatre trips of 2014 – see the rest here.