Sunday, March 12, 2006

Assassins - Crucible Theatre, Sheffield: 11/03

Wow. Just wow. This really was the best production I have seen for a long long time. Quick summary - it's a Sonheim musical written in 1990 which brings together nine of the many men and women who have attempted, or succeded in killing a US president, from the one who started it all - John Wilkes Booth (Lincoln) , through Lee Harvey Oswald (Kennedy) to John Hinkley (Reagan). Obviously then, this is not exactly historically accurate, and the debate about whether Oswald actually did kill Kennedy is alluded to, but really not important in the grand scheme of what Sondheim is trying to get across.

So what exactly is the point of the musical? Well, it gives reasons and explanations for the actions of all the assassins - Samuel Byck (Nixon) had a Willy Loman complex (Death of a Salesman is referenced several times throughout the musical) - feeling that the American Dream had failed, or alluded him. Charles Guiteau (Garfield) wanted to achieve something big, and turned to assassination when he was refused high office. Lynette Fromme (Ford) did it for Charles Manson; Hinkley for Jodie Foster. But you'd be missing something major if you thought that this musical excuses the murders in any way. What it says is that these people had serious problems - some personal, some social - many of which were perfectly valid grievances, but the ludicrous call of 'Why don't you shoot the President?!' which punctuates the play displays what a ridiculous way of trying to solve those problems assassination is. This really is not a radical musical - it portrays many of the assassins as desperate but generally not clear-thinking crusaders against the state. It's not prescriptive, but thoughtful, and takes each case individually, rather than saying all the assassins were aiming for the same thing.

So if the politics of it were spot on, how did it work as a musical? Well, this is Sondheim and as such the songs were really excellent. Not a known tune in sight, and yet every song was enjoyable, darkly funny, and highly intricate, as Sondheim's melodies tend to be. The play is bookended by 'Everybody's Got The Right', which demonstrates a bizarre interpretation of the American Dream, where everyone has a right to be happy, to be heard, and therefore to shoot the president. 'Unworthy Of Your Love' is an unsettling love song sung by Hinkley and Fromme, towards Jodie Foster and Charles Manson respectively. Then there's 'The Ballad of Guiteau', a real Hollywood-style show-stopper performed on the gallows - all were wonderfully twisted highlights.

The politics, the songs, the book - all get thumbs up. The only thing left is the production of it, and I'm afraid I've got to be predictably positive. The production is directed by Nikolai Forster, who was also at the helm of the Crucible's 'A Chorus Line', and if they are anything to go by, he has a very bright future. The word to sum up this production is 'impeccable' - stunning stage set, not a single noticable fluffed line, witty choreography and an ensemble cast of incredible singers. All in all you felt incredibly safe in the hands of the director and cast. I'm raving, I know, but it didn't put a foot wrong - the first truly great production of Sam West's tenure.

4 comments:

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

I really wanted to get to see this but have been so busted with my schedule...

Ah well...

Mellie Bean said...

That's a Sondheim show I've not seen (nor even heard the cast album), but it IS a very intriguing concept. ;-)

Will be checking it out if it winds up playing somewhere I can get to.

AnnaWaits said...

You'd love it!

photo editor said...

I've seen the play too! it was amazing..the theater is one of my favorites