EDINBURGH 2016 - BWW Review: ASSASSINS, Paradise in Augustines, 27 August
Stephen Sondheim's Assassins is a fascinating exploration of the dark side of the American dream, taking as its subject nine of the men and women who have tried to kill Presidents of the United States. In this production from BB Theatre Productions, the director and cast are highly successful in getting to grips with the main challenge of the piece: creating a diverse group of characters who are sympathetic and often funny, while at the same time communicating the inherent menace and madness prevalent in their ranks.
The score is not typical of Sondheim - rather more melodic thanks to its pastiche of music from different time periods matching up to each of the assassins, and its suggestion of a carnival shooting gallery within the score enhanced by this production's design choices. Vocals are overwhelmingly faultless and performances are likewise exceptional. In particular, Niven Willett as Giuseppe Zangara commits wholeheartedly to an intense performance. Charlie Seddon as Leon Czolgosz and Jack Stark as John Hinckley both create more tender outcast figures.
As the balladeer, Charlie Booker plays the everyman commentator with a perfect mixture of wholesome innocence and cynical humour, while William Branston captures the charisma and craziness of Charles Guiteau. There is not a single weak link among the assassins, and praise must also be given to the small ensemble (Matt Cooke, Lacey Creed and Tom Daniels) who play every other part in the show between them.
Assassins is a show well suited to the Fringe, requiring little in the way of set or effects, but the intimate nature of the venue at Augustines adds an extra frisson to the performance, with intense red-eyed assassins pointing a gun only a few feet in front of your face. Indeed, those who are of a nervous or giggly disposition should avoid the front row!
Overall, this is a slick production that zips along through two centuries of American history, made even more disturbing by the rhetoric of contemporary American politics. If you enjoy darkly comic musicals, skillfully performed by a talented cast, this production will blow you away.
Assassins is at Paradise in Augustines until August 28.