Assassins hits the mark at Menier
Jamie Lloyd's production starring Catherine Tate, Aaron Tveit and Andy Nyman is 'irresistibly potent'
Like most devotees of Stephen Sondheim, I admire Assassins... I don't love it, though. It is probably the last of his really good, daring and innovative works... Don't let this unseasonal grumpiness put you off, though, sampling what is arguably the best anti-American musical of the lot... we have unrelated stories of varying intensity... the recreation of a sardonic vaudeville is patchy, despite punchy, nerve-shredding contributions from Mike McShane... and Andy Nyman... The show's actually less enjoyable than it should be because Jamie Lloyd, good director though he is, and his designer, Soutra Gilmour, don't waste any time on charm... Assassins, for all its technical and artistic expertise... is a bit of a downer. There are no take-home songs, and nothing to make you want to see it again, apart from its pedigree...
Jamie Lloyd's production of Stephen Sondheim's 1990 musical pitches its audience into a zanily macabre funfair... Simon Lipkin as the Proprietor... holds Sondheim's high-concept show together in this fairground of broken dreams... Lloyd's assured production glosses the darkness to a lustrous, lacquered black that's gleefully enjoyable... The top-drawer ensemble give committed performances; Andy Nyman's deluded Charles Guiteau skips around like a jolly little gnome... Catherine Tate showcases her vocal talents and comedy chops... Her scenes with fellow Ford assassin, 'Squeaky' Frome (Carly Bawden), don't quite connect however; although both sparky, the humour doesn't always land. This revival, played without an interval, is fleet, but Sondheim's revue format can feel scrappy, and necessarily often lacks depth; not all characters convince or are fully explored. But this is crackling production is certainly more hit than miss.
Assassins certainly isn't Stephen Sondheim's most popular musical... But Jamie Lloyd's tense and politically charged production does a stunning job of highlighting its virtues... In Lloyd's interpretation, on a set by Soutra Gilmour that resembles the fairground in a horror film, it feels thrilling. Catherine Tate is cruelly funny... while Carly Bawden dazzles... Aaron Tveit is both elegant and provocative... Andy Nyman has an electric intensity... Mike McShane perfectly conveys the psychosis of Richard Nixon's menacing critic Samuel Byck. And Jamie Parker is magnetic as the Balladeer, the banjo-playing narrator whose optimism ultimately seems hollow... This is a musical that exudes the very opposite of festive cheer. Yet in allowing the deranged and the dispossessed to speak to us challengingly, it proves irresistibly potent. Sondheim hits the mark, and so does Lloyd.
Stephen Sondheim's musical Assassins may be a piece in places to admire yet it is not something I could love... Throw in lots of Sondheimish half-melodies and sub-Brechtian touches... and you pretty much have the basics of this 115-minute, interval-free show. Big, sweeping, romantic numbers are absent. This one's a cerebral effort, as it would probably need to be given the subject matter. Killers of democratically-elected leaders are a hard sell, emotion-wise... Mike McShane is troublingly convincing as a permanently angry Samuel Byck... Among other perfomers, Jamie Parker sings soulfully as the Balladeer; Aaron Tveit makes an indignant, composed Booth. This being the Menier, the show is staged with elan and the music is tightly played. Yet a whole musical drama about assassins? This is the stuff of university faculty revue evenings, at best.
The Menier's stunning new production of Assassins... may be its boldest and most daring yet... It takes a work of suppressed rage and fury... and turns it into a gleaming fairground ride that's at once disturbing and exhilarating... Jamie Lloyd's production achieves a rare narrative drive in the process... Lloyd fields the most luxuriously cast ensemble production in town. There isn't a false performance anywhere... there are brilliantly characterised turns... Each of these are as much about their acting performances as vocal ones, and they are all are outstanding. But three characters stand out at the front... The recurring presence of each - sternly principled, lyrical and haunted, by turns - brings this show into a fierce focus that is rarely experienced...