Assassins

Assassins delves into the possible motives of nine individuals who have both failed and succeeded in killing an American President. Sondheim’s score and John Weidman’s book cover a wide range of emotions from the deeply tragic to darkly comic to present these stories as each of the killers steps up to the plate at a fairground shooting gallery. The final twist is, perhaps, the ultimate conspiracy theory as to who shot JFK.

It is an unavoidable fact that not everyone in the audience will get a perfect view, and on this sold-out first night of Assassins, I had little alternative but to miss a fair chunk of the action when the tallest woman in Edinburgh plonked herself down in front of me. The rake in the seating at Bedlam is very shallow, so it meant I could only really see the show when the actors where on the extremes of stage right and left; or when the gigantic woman in front of me leant forward to continue a text conversation she was holding on her phone with irritating frequency (quite why people buy a ticket to a show then ignore it to have a chat with someone else and at the same time piss off everyone around them by effectively holding a torch in the middle of the auditorium I will never understand). I realise that none of this is the fault of the production company (save, perhaps, more vigilance is required by theatre staff to ensure mobile phones really are turned off), but I'm also well aware that most theatre companies get as many cheerleaders as possible in when there's a reviewer booked into the show, evidenced by tall woman's friend asking another group in the row behind mine how much they are supposed to laugh.

What I did see of the show was very lumpy. Unfortunately there was far too much staring at the floor, underpowered singing, tuning problems and trampling over each others lines to lift this production out of the mire. The orchestration was frankly odd, and I’m sure some of this was delivered not how the author had intended. I’d also suggest that the cast may have pushed it a little too far with the stage make-up, as they had the appearance of painted dolls and the director seemed to make some very strange and nonsensical decisions with choreography.

But maybe it was first night nerves; perhaps the pitch problems and wierd orchestration where just technical hitches. I hope so – as this production has the potential to be great. For within this show, the actor playing Sam Byck shone through as a terrific performer, rescuing the show from the jaws of the mundane. Also, Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth in their final scene found focus and timing that had been lacking previously. Combined with Sondheim’s fantastic ‘Another National Anthem’, the closing of the show was extraordinarily better than its inauspicious start.

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The Blurb

Life, liberty and the pursuit of presidents: Stephen Sondheim's atmospheric, darkly comic musical ranges freely through the musical styles of American history to reveal the slights, injusticies, prejudices, and insanities that drove its presidential assassins. 'Spine-tingling' (Durham 21). www.likeashark.co.uk

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