Assassins is a cleverly directed revival of Stephen Sondehim’s musical from 1990 that gets you laughing at the darkest of situations. The Menier Chocolate Factory is the perfect place for it, where the audience can walk through the creepy stage at the beginning and look the asassins straight in the eye during the show. The small size of the theatre is used ingeniously throughout a song, as each person in the audience gets a taste of being in front of a (fake) gun and there is absolute silence for what seems like an eternity.
We follow the story of a group of desperate and deluded people who attempted to assassinate the president of the United States - four of whom were successful. This is easy to follow due to the use of signs in the theatre, stating ‘Hit’ or ‘Miss’ and the clear change of atmosphere when the story moves to a different person. The constant change of music style makes for a very uncomfortable atmosphere, but also seperates the assassins and outcasts from the rest of the US. This seperation grows stronger and stronger as the show develops and the assassins become a unity, dependant on the act of Lee Harvey Oswald to make their rebbelling crimes remembered and significant.
With a piece like this, where the focus is on hated criminals, the audience is left dazed, because it is hard to watch the crimes of notorious people being explained and given more depth. We often forget that these people had, unreasonable and absurd as they were, their own reasons to do what they did and this musical reinforces that idea. However, the characters are not all developed in the same amount of detail and they can seem slightly two dimensional at times.
Having said that, the musical is very impressive, with its humorous yet dramatic take on the subject, the phenomenally terrifying actors and the brilliant stage effects. Three effetcs stick in my mind in particular. The first is the death of Giuseppe Zangara - played by Stewart Clarke - who was killed by being electrocuted. The lighting, together with Clarke’s acting made this moment almost unbearable and painfully realistic. The cheerful music - that is consistant throughout the show - that followed this moment made it even harsher. However, the change in tone was never more disturbing than after the death of Charles Guiteau who was hanged for the assassination of President Garfield. After his death, the music changed once again to the merry tune which represented USA’s society returning back to order.
This leads me to the most memorable effect I’ve ever witnessed in the theatre, when blood-red ticker tape streamed down onto the stage (and the audience in the first row). The effect was dramatic and reminded you of how much blood had been shed by this point in teh show.
Having said all of this, the musical is not perfect. I felt that some characters were underdeveloped - Sarah Jane Moore in particular, who was plainly presented as a stupid, clueless woman. Moreover, as fantastic as the actor’s singing was, there were no particularly astounding songs that a musical should have at least have one of.
However, it was a brilliant musical that raised political ideas and showed awareness for outcasts in the society and people who do not live in as fortunate circumastances as others. It was astounding, educational and very, very dark.