Assassins is the 1990 off-Broadway musical, with music and lyrics by Sir Stephen Sondheim. The show had its London premiere at the Donmar Warehouse in October 1992 and returned in 2010 at the Union Theatre. The 2001 Broadway production was postponed in light of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and eventually opened in 2004 starring Neil Patrick Harris. The show went on to win seven Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Musical.
This time around it is the turn of the Menier Chocolate Factory to stage this revival and it looks beautiful in this space. Seats are coloured in red, yellow and blue, embellishing the circus freak feeling the giant clown head on the stage portrays. A thousand dimly lit lightbulbs hang from the ceiling and flicker in amongst the noise of roller-coasters and screaming teenagers.
Assassins is a musical, toe tapping history lesson. A comedic, musical revue of the men and women who have tried (sometimes successfully and other times not so) to assassinate Presidents of the USA throughout history. Sondheim is the master of story-telling and has been hailed as one of musical theatre’s greatest writers. He is the topic of hot conversation more than ever right now with the Hollywood production of Into The Woods coming to cinemas early next year.
The star attraction in this show is TV’s Catherine Tate. She is well cast as the ditzy american airhead, Sarah Jane Moore, and delivers the comedy lines to perfection. She doesn’t sing much which is a good thing, as in amongst the incredible voices on stage, she stands out as the weakest of them all. Carly Bawden gives a wonderful performance at Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme, the Californian girl who tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford in 1975 to win the love of her boyfriend Charles Manson. Seventeen days later, Sarah Jane Moore also attempted to assassinate the President. This musical portrays the two women conspiring to kill together. The shining beacon in this show is Simon Lipkin. His portrayal of the Proprietor is the greatest performance of his career so far and aside from his incredibly powerful voice, he oozes charisma throughout the shows entirety.
Assassins pokes fun at murderers, giving it a comedic twist that shows like Chicago have done in the past. Are these people crazy or just misunderstood? At just under two hours without an interval, the show is hard going and while I agree a break in the middle may have broken the focus of the piece, I still believe intervals are more important as the uncomfortableness of sitting still for more than an hour can be trying and cause the audience to lose focus anyway.
If you can get a ticket to Assassins then I highly recommend you do as it is a brilliant, gritty show, that is beautiful to look at and has a cast of incredible performers. Don’t expect a happy ending with fluffy bunny rabbits though, the most you will get is a dead dog.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Assassins is playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 7 March 2015
Photo: Nobby Clark