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Assassins (Hayes Theatre Co)

20 September 2017 | 4:39 pm | Sam Baran

"If you like Sondheim and snappy, humorous black comedy, give Assassins a shot"

A bizarre, misguided rogue's gallery comes to life in Dean Bryant's production of Stephen Sondheim's subversive and strangely prescient musical, Assassins.

Cavorting around like contestants on a game show called Who Shot The President?, nine presidential assassins, as notorious as Lee Harvey Oswald or obscure as Italian anarchist Giuseppe Zangara, compete to tell their stories in a frenetic carnival of vignettes. In between, they delve into ideas of nationhood and shattered dreams, promises and bleak existences.

The timing of this show is not accidental. Whatever their stated reasons - like John Wilkes Booth's "sic semper tyrannis" after shooting Lincoln - all of the characters are driven by anger: at themselves, at others, at being ignored. In Assassins, Bryant is reiterating how dangerous it can be to sweep aside the downtrodden and operate on hate and contempt.

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The score, being Sondheim, is clever, emotive and rich with invention, and the execution by the Hayes cast is consummately marvellous. The unlikely figure of Booth guides us through the tangled skeins of stories and some standout musical numbers, including a ludicrous four-person tribute to firearms changing the world in Your Little Finger, and a vaudeville number in which the insane Charles Guiteau hops, skips and jumps his way to the gallows.

Assassins does a devious job of getting the audience to understand and laugh along with these murderous chaos-seekers. If you like Sondheim and snappy, humorous black comedy, give Assassins a shot (grassy knoll not provided).

Hayes Theatre Co presents Assassinstill 22 Oct at Hayes Theatre.