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Assassins (Menier Chocolate Factory)

January 28, 2015

Seen at the afternoon performance on 20th December 2014.

I remember fondly the 1992 Donmar Warehouse London premiere, which re-opened that venue and confused the professional reviewers of the time. Then, impeccable thrust-staging and a star-studded-in-the-making cast taught me more about American history in 90 minutes than I’d previously learned in a lifetime. Consequently, and having had years to listen to the cast CD (one of the first CDs I bought, at a time when vinyl still reigned) I was very much looking forward to renewing old acquaintances.

This time, the cast was already well-known, and the setting an imaginative traverse. The carnival this time is seedy, with an even seedier owner (Simon Lipkin) to keep score. Jamie Parker’s superbly urbane Balladeer (and later, Lee Harvey Oswald) reclines in a dodgem until required, and one by one, the freaks of history arrive and deliver their tales along with the bullets – “Hit” and “Miss” signs illuminate us as to their success.

Of particular note, Stewart Clarke’s frustrated working Zangara, Harry Morrison’s emotionally immature Hinkley, Mike McShane’s deluded Samuel Byck and the Carly Bawden / Catherine Tate fruitcake Fromme / Moore combo stand out. Each delivers as many chills in their motivation as they do in their actions.

The music is as strong as ever, and it was an opportunity to hear “Something Just Broke” again – it’s not on the original recording as it was added later, for London.

Soutra Gilmour’s design is effective, though since the show’s point is that these murderers ‘surround us in everyday life,’ rather than simply face-off against each other, the traverse simply wasn’t as effective as an audience on three sides. Still, everybody gets a souvenir (and will be finding it in their clothes for weeks).

For sure, this gave the message loud and clear that America cannot be changed radically by the use of a gun (I might argue a case for a plane though, perhaps, alas) and that it is the democratic right to “kill a president” – the guardian of that message. The fact that most don’t being the proof that democracy works.

As an overview of history, and a dissection of politics at grass-roots level, the musical still enthralls. As a musical entertainment, it’s sometimes colder than it need be – and this production is certainly one of the most clinical in that regard. Sharp enough to kill, a warmer chill may have raised it from the merely good to the heights of outstanding. Still and all, damn you Booth…

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