Review: ‘Assassins’

Occasionally misses the mark, but a strong effort nonetheless.

Assassins drama Keble Keble O'Reilly Theatre Musical O'Reilly OUDS oxford Sondheim Theatre


Sondheim’s musical about various successful and attempted assassinations of US Presidents has always been an underperformed piece.

It is unusual in its revue like format, but certainly as punchy and enjoyable as other Sondheim favourites such as Sweeny Todd and Into The Woods.

Curious Grin’s production of arguably Sondheim’s most conceptual piece, that explores the acts and motivations of a gallery of trigger-happy psychopaths and wannabes, is most definitely admirable, sharp and sleek.

Sondheim’s songs mimic each character’s era, sometimes poignant and bitter, often satirical and snappy. But John Weidman’s script has even greater impact, from gallows humor interchanges between Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme (Ellie Lowenthal) and Sara Jane Moore (Bláthnaid McCullagh), both targeting Gerald Ford, to the disturbing ramblings of Sam Byck- Richard Nixon’s would-be executioner.

Luke Rollason as the ‘worryingly unhinged Charles Guiteau’

Femi Nyander’s haunting Proprietor lures these head cases to their radical callings, and leads to some stand out performances: Luke Rollason was well cast as a worryingly unhinged Charles Guiteau, whose well timed humour left the audience laughing nervously throughout.

Whilst Alex Wickens’ unnerving posture and focused stares meant that his John Hinkley characterization extracted the impulsiveness at the core of this scorned stalker.

Cassian Bilton meets his doom

The production itself moved seamlessly, from vignette to vignette, song to song: highlights being the bold and brash ‘Everyone’s got a Right’ and the lingering ‘Something Just Broke.

These fanatics remain in an assassins’ purgatory of sorts until a most chilling final scene, in which John Wilkes Booth appears to Lee Harvey Oswald (captivatingly played by Sammy Breen and Niall Docherty), persuading him to take the biggest prize and subsequently ‘freeing’ his assassin predecessors.

Accents do slip at times, and whilst the entire cast acquires a manner of eccentricities for their characters, sometimes their quiet anguish is forgotten. Yet, that is the difficulty with a piece with such weighty underpinnings of distorted American dreams, but vaudeville-like surfaces.