Assassins

Stephen Sondheim

BB Theatre Productions

Paradise in Augustines

From 22 August 2016 to 28 August 2016

Rating: *****

Review by Keith Mckenna

There is a huge carnival sign across the back of the stage in BB Theatre’s strong production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Assassins. It reads "Shoot the President".

At a time when the leading Republican Party candidate for the Presidency said that people with guns might find a way of stopping a President Hilary Clinton introducing tighter gun control, it seems less a carnival game sign and more of a dangerous political instruction.

Sondheim’s funny, nightmarish vision of an America where so many of its Presidents have been assassinated tells its story from the point of view of the assassins. The lyrics and music reflect and develop the characters through contrasting scenes.

The factory worker Leon Czolgosz (Charlie Seddon) is shown meeting the revolutionary Emma Goldman after a political meeting where her arm was broken by the Chicago police.

It is followed by a rally for "the round and prosperous" President McKinley who greets people at a business event with the boast that anyone can reach the top in the US.

But this is a US where Leon argues, "some men have everything and some have none". The production of a gun kills hundreds before it is made—"In the mines, in the mills, at machines. Who died for what? A thing to make the bosses richer."

Each scene is linked by the sardonic commentary of the Balladeer in an extraordinarily fine performance by Charlie Booker.

In song, the character argues that the assassins may have "shed a little blood and stirred a little mud. But didn’t help the workers and didn’t heal the country."

It is not a message that carries much weight with the growing ranks of the dispossessed even when he breezily announces that "the mailman just won the lottery".

Driving him from the stage they urge us to spread the word that there is "another national anthem" of those who no longer believe in the system.

This is a fluent, musically confident production with a chilling performance from Ian Stark as Sam Byck. There are also particularly thoughtful, amusing performances from Becky Silverstein as Sarah Jane Moore and Lucy Smith as Lynette Fromme, the women who tried to kill Gerald Ford.

This is a very entertaining show about the inequality of the American system and the dangerous violence it generates.