BSSTC Assassins - photo by Philip GostelowIt seems every major theatre company in Australia is performing Sondheim’s Assassins as part of their 2018 season.  Maybe it’s a reflection of the world’s current view on US politics and gun control.

Assassins, music by Stephen Sondheim and book by John Weidman, explores the connection between assassins and would be assassins, throughout history, who have pointed a gun at a President of the United States of America. There is something disconcerting about sitting in an audience and having a gun pointed at you.

The musical is a combination of solos, duets and soliloquies in which the cast are each able to shine with dramatic and often comical performances amongst a historical musical theatre score. Unfortunately the opening scene lacks energy and fails to command the audience into the performance.

The proprietor, Luke Hewitt, fails to exude the passion of a spruiker calling upon people at a fair to “Come shoot a President.” This may have been due to the musical ensemble being lead by a piano. Sondheim’s score requires something more imposing than the piano, and it felt like you were at a rehearsal rather than the final production.

Opening scene aside, the production directed by Roger Hodgman, manages to reach its climatic conclusion thanks to the outstanding performances of the entire cast. Brendan Hanson, as John Wilkes Booth, follows the opening and sets the  standard for the performances the audience is about to witness.

Finn Alexander’s portrayal as the balladeer and Lee Harvey Oswald exudes innocence and commands attention, while Geoff Kelso’s soliloquies as Samuel Byck were haunting and mesmerising.

Mackenzie Dunn as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Caitlin Beresford-Ord as Sara Jane Moore shone as the comedic duo. Their scenes over a bucket of KFC and on hands and knees searching for bullets had the audience in fits of laughter. Dunn’s Unworthy of your Love duet with Nick Eynaud, was passionate and powerful.

The set designed by Lawrie Cullen-Tait resembled an empty warehouse and the steps leading to a noose enable Will O’Mahony, as Charles Guiteau, to ascend the stairs with exuberant high kicks. Lighting by Mark Howett and video design by Michael Carmody adds to the drama of the production. Video footage of actual presidents and assassinations manage to cast audience members back in time.

Assassins is a reflection on the past dramatically performed by an impeccable cast and it is exciting to see Western Australia’s Black Swan State Theatre Company include it as part of this year’s program.

Heath Ledger Theatre – State Theatre Centre of WA, William Street, Perth
Performance: Wednesday 20 June 2018 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 1 July 2018
Information and Bookings:

Image: The Cast of Assassins – photo by Philip Gostelow

Review: Craig Dalglish