Assassins is a show of rich thematic complexity, difficult harmonies and challenging characterisation. Performers are asked to get inside the minds of would-be presidential murderers and audiences need to be convinced that they are allowed to enjoy these criminals portrayed as all-singing and all-dancing. It is not a show to be taken lightly and Haste Theatre have not done so with their production of Stephen Sondheim's underrated classic, which deserves but has not yet achieved a place amongst his most well-known works such as Sweeney Todd and Into The Woods.
Whilst this performance is not of the standard of a professional touring company, as a college production it is hugely successful
Assassins is a revue-style show tying together the efforts, mostly unsuccessful, of many attempted presidential assassinations. Book-ended by the succesful attempts on the lives of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, the show takes the audience through John Hinckley's obsession with Jodie Foster, past Lynette 'Squeaky' Fromme's rantings about Charles Manson, and to Charles Guiteau's delusions of grandeur, before leading us to the Texas book depository inhabited by Lee Harvey Oswald.
It should be noted that this is a college production. The show does come with the attached occasional slip-ups and there are a few notable flaws in performance confidence. These are sure to be ironed out over future performances as the cast build up energy and begin to feel more comfortable in their roles, but the production does lack polish at times with occasional choreography and dialogue stumbles. The elements that this show misses though are made up for with enthusiasm and the surprise that comes from the quality of performance from this young cast.
The performances ranged in confidence and overall quality but all showed promise as less strong singers excelled in dialogue scenes and vice versa. Three particular performers should be highlighted for their all round skills. Firstly, Jamie Humphrey as John Wilkes Booth is undoubtedly the cast's strongest singer, filling the cavernous C Venues space with a delightfully sonorous tone and an intense charisma in the more complex emotional scenes. Milly Austen as Sara Jane Moore is comedically gifted, displaying a professional-quality commitment to the performance and considerable singing talent. Finally, Conor Good as Leon Czolgosz performed with considerable intensity and power. The ballad chronicling his assasination attempt is a highlight of the show.
As a show rarely produced on a large scale but beloved by many people as one of Sondheim's best, Assassins is a huge weight to put on a young cast of actors performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Whilst this performance is not of the standard of a professional touring company, as a college production it is hugely successful. Recommended to fans wishing to get their fix of this uncommon musical as well as those willing to forgive occasional hiccups brought about by inexperience, Assassins is a very successful production of a very challenging musical.