music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim book by John Weidman.
Menier Chocolate Factory 53 Southwark Street SE1 1RU To 7 March 2015.
Tue-Sat 8pm no evening performance 31 Dec.
Mat Sat, Sun, 23, 30, 31 Dec 3.30pm.
no performance 24-26 Dec, 1 Jan.
Runs1hr 50min No interval.
Sold Out to 10 February.
TICKETS: 020 7378 1713 (£2 transaction fee).
www.menierchocolatefactory.com (£1 transaction fee).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 December.
A good shot at deadly Sondheim, if not quite hitting the bulls-eye.
After the psychological exploration of murder in the dark secrecy of Victorian London with Sweeney Todd, Stephen Sondheim explore assassinations bids against American Presidents in a raucous showbiz atmosphere.
As Jamie Lloyd’s Menier revival emphasises from the audience’s entry into the auditorium through a ghastly grinning Hell-mouth of a fairground booth, and with giant clown-heads on each half of the traverse stage, under signs which light up to record ‘Hit’ or ‘Miss’ at each assassin’s pot-shot.
Soutra Gilmour’s set may constrict larger group scenes, but works when fewer people are around, while its showbiz razzmatazz, mixed with darkness and smudges, reflects the mix of murder as showing-off and diseased preoccupation.
In the land of opportunity everyone wants to be recognised. Reluctant assassins are urged-on by inner voices, externalised as companion killers, offering recognition and a place in history. No show-booth could tempt with a bigger prize.
The sad undercurrent is caught in the overblown boisterous popular music genres; march, anthem, ballad. And popular musical references add their irony: a muffled version of Presidential intro piece ‘Hail to the Chief as another President enters to be attacked, or would-be killer of Richard Nixon, Samuel Byck – Mike McShane, all surface sanity with glimpses of deranged logic – travelling in an old Santa suit in a dodgem-car to Bernstein/Sondheim’s America.
Delusional grievances and a sense of inadequacy characterise most assassins. The first, Abraham Lincoln murderer John Wilkes Booth (Aaron Tveit, with Brad Pitt cool), who inspires those who attempt to follow, states political reasons for the killing, but his explanation’s soon questioned.
They’re almost all male; when the two women (played with ferocious energy and serious conviction by Carly Bawden and Catherine Tate) who try killing Gerald Ford take over, it’d be easy to forget the piece is a musical as comedy takes over in John Weidman’s book.
This isn’t a history of assassination attempts, but a melee, stirred-up like the killers’ feverish minds, and with all the fun of a nightmare fair. At times quieter notes may be passed over, but Sondheim, even done less well than here, is always innovative and intelligent.
Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme: Carly Bawden.
Giuseppe Zangara: Stewart Clarke.
Proprietor: Simon Lipkin.
Samuel Byck: Mike McShane.
John Hinckley: Harry Morrison.
Charles Guiteau: Andy Nyman.
Balladeer/Lee Harvey Oswald: Jamie Parker.
Leon Gzolgosz: David Roberts.
Emma Goldman/Bystander: Melle Stewart.
Sara Jane Moore: Catherine Tate.
John Wilkes Booth: Aaron Tveit.
Bystanders: Marc Akinfolarin, Adam Bayjou, Greg Miller Burns, Aoife Nally.
Director: Jamie Lloyd.
Designer/Costume: Soutra Gilmour.
Lighting: Neil Austin.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.
Orchestrator: Bruce Coughlin.
Musical Supervisor/Musical Director: Alan Williams.
Voice/Dialect Coach: Penny Dyer.
Choreographer: Chris Bailey.
Hair/Make-up: Richard Mawbey for Wig Specialities.
Associate director: Richard Fitch.
Assistant director: Rupert Hands.
Assistant musical director: Huw Evans.
Associate choreographer: Ben Clare.