Review Roundup: Menier Chocolate Factory's ASSASSINS

Menier Chocolate Factory Artistic Director David Babani welcomes Jamie Lloyd's major revival of Stephen Sondheimand John Weidman's ASSASSINS as part of the theatre's 10-year anniversary season. Joining are Carly Bawden,Simon Lipkin, Mike McShane, Andy Nyman, David Roberts and Catherine Tate are Stewart Clarke, Harry Morrison ,Aaron Tveit and Jamie Parker.

13 people have tried to kill the president of the United States. Four have succeeded. These murderers and would-be murderers are generally dismissed as maniacs and misfits who have little in common with each other, and nothing in common with the rest of us. ASSASSINS suggests otherwise...

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Charles Isherwood, New York Times: Although the score for "Assassins" adds up to more than the sum of its individual numbers, the chilling "Gun Song" remains a shivery high point, with its gently lilting music box melody laid over the chorus, which assures its characters that they can master their fate merely by moving a little finger. As led by Mr. Tveit, whose Booth has the commanding presence of a celebrated actor and the festering malevolence of a viper, the song forms the evening's haunting centerpiece. The razzle-dazzle choreography (by Chris Bailey) for the finale could profitably be toned down, but the last image, soundless but for the frantic panting of the killers as they stare us down, guns leveled, concludes this production on a heart-skipping note. We who enter this carnival of the damned are not likely to soon forget it.

Leslie Felperin, Hollywood Reporter: Throughout, Jamie Parker's Balladeer, incarnating the voice of common sense or historical perspective, comments on the pointlessness of the assassins' actions, sometimes openly mocking them. He notes, for instance, that the country would heal itself after the Civil War, and that the enigmatic Booth (glorious tenor Aaron Tveit) might have shot Lincoln simply because of bad reviews for his acting. It's a smart choice to have the excellent Parker sing in a twangy, country-and-western vocal style that makes even more sense when he morphs into the Texan Oswald at the end. This adds a folksy, music-hall touch, as does the stripped-down, edgier orchestration crafted by Bruce Coughlin.

Matt Trueman, Variety: Assassins assemble! Stephen Sondheim and John Wiedman's ragtag band of marksmen gets a Marvel Comics makeover courtesy of Jamie Lloyd and his regular designer Soutra Gilmour. Gathered in an abandoned, run-down fairground and goaded on by Simon Lipkin's Joker-like proprietor, the would-be president-killers become a band of supervillains, railing at the world and the American dream that spat them out. It's a corker of a concept, deliciously designed and supported by real attention to detail throughout. The only thing missing in this "Assassins" is the danger.

Michael Billiangton, The Guardian: The production is at its best when it calms down and stops straining for effect. Aaron Tveit as John Wilkes Booth exhibits throughout a lethal cool and Harry Morrison sings John Hinckley's sentimental ballad to Jodie Foster with quiet charm. And, even though it's basically an ensemble piece, Catherine Tate and Carly Bawden, as two potential killers of Gerald Ford, make something blackly comic out of their incompetence: Tate, in particular, is memorably funny-sad as a ditzy multiple divorcee, who hardly knows one end of a gun from another, but who is filled with an unfocused resentment at the world at large.

Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard: This is a strange, bold and arguably reckless attempt to make heroes of figures we usually condemn, and to underline the less obvious but appalling villainy of the society that produced them. The lyrics are sharp and intricate, while the score cleverly pastiches various kinds of traditional song, drawing attention to some of the more unsettling or cliched features of the American national myth. This is a musical that exudes the very opposite of festive cheer. Yet in allowing the deranged and the dispossessed to speak to us challengingly, it proves irresistibly potent. Sondheim hits the mark, and so does Lloyd.

Ian Shuttleworth, Financial Times: The only seriously flawed note is struck by Catherine Tate as Sara Jane Moore (another failed Ford gunwoman). Moore is the show's most straightforward comic character, but Tate's considerable talents as a comedy actor seem now to have subsided into Catherine Tating every role she is given. It is almost a relief to return to the murky view of a world in which assassination is now the only viable, perhaps the only rational, option.

Quentin Letts, Daily Mail: Jamie Lloyd's production includes Catherine Tate as one of President Gerald Ford's two, bungling, female would-be killers. Mike McShane is troublingly convincing as a permanently angry Samuel Byck, the man who tried to assassinate Richard Nixon. Among other perfomers, Jamie Parker sings soulfully as the Balladeer; Aaron Tveit makes an indignant, composed Booth. This being the Menier, the show is staged with elan and the music is tightly played. Yet a whole musical drama about assassins? This is the stuff of university faculty revue evenings, at best.

Holly Williams, The Independent: This revival, played without an interval, is fleet, but Sondheim's revue format can feel scrappy, and necessarily often lacks depth; not all characters convince or are fully explored. But this is crackling production is certainly more hit than miss.

Mark Shenton, London Theatre: Jamie Lloyd's production splices these separate stories together seamlessly, and is played with raw intensity, vigour and rigour by the best ensemble cast in town. There are outstanding individualised turns from Catherine Tate as Sara Jane Moore, Carly Basen as Lynette 'Squeaky' Fromme, Andy Nyman as Charles Guiteau, Stewart Clarke as Guiseppe Zangara, Mike McShane as Samuel Byck, David Roberts as Leon Czolgosz and Harry Morrison as John Hinkley that each provide mini-masterclasses in establishing and defining character. But there are also three performances from Aaron Tveit as John Wilkes Booth, Jamie Parker as a folk balladeer who becomes Lee Harvey Oswald, and the aforementioned Simon Lipkin who provide a wider context to their motivations. Like the equally stylised The Scottsboro Boys, Assassins is a musical of resonant, chastening politics in which form and content are seamlessly integrated in an astonishing, audacious and courageous show.

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