A review by Vanessa Bunnfor EXTRA! EXTRA!



2nd Company presents



Johnjo Flynn as Lee Harvey Oswald and Martin Dickinson as John Wilkes Booth

Photo credit:


Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Book by John Weidman

Based on an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr.

Director: Ray Rackham

Choreographer: Chris Whittaker

Musical Director: Joe Bunker

Costume Designer: Gemma Veitch


Pleasance Theatre


21 March – 7 April 2012


A sixteen-strong cast and band of six deliver an enthralling tour through the circumstances of ten actual or would-be killers of American Presidents in this accomplished production of Stephen Sondheim's acclaimed Assassins. The band performs the score with impressive scope - sultry keys combined with strings and trumpet forming a rich tapestry of sound. Their location is the only concern, hidden behind the stage is not an ideal placement and sound balance may have been better served if they’d occupied a more central position.

A rustic set, draped with beaten but regal stars and stripes is an early indication that this play is concerned not so much with a portrayal of the American Dream as its disenchanted underbelly. Impeccable casting and tight, spirited choreography ensure that this story of a collective pursuit of some kind of happiness is a believable, riveting one.

The assassins are introduced one by one by enthusiastic Proprietor (Paul Burnham) who encouragingly supplies guns in all shapes and sizes to the interesting posse whilst fuelling their reactionary tendencies through song. The preparation for and, assassinations of several American Presidents are then presented from the gun-sight perspective of the killers. The band is as capable of invoking the celebratory atmosphere in which the murders are enacted as the sinister, complex mental arenas in which thoughts of murder flourish.

Brandon Force is nothing short of outstanding as Charles Guiteau - with a demented grin and deluded positivity he takes “The Ballad of Guitteau” through a grand tour of dancing, prancing and jazz-hands with immeasurable gusto, before reluctantly approaching the scaffold to meet his “Lordy”. Even apart from his centrepiece, every scene he inhabits sizzles with comic energy.  Martin Dickinson as John Wilkes Booth is also exceptional. Dapper, commanding and bearing an uncanny resemblance to Abraham Lincoln's real killer, his stage presence is consuming, culminating in his dictating the action at the closing scene.

The two would-be assassins of Gerald Ford are an absolute delight; Sara Jane Moore (Bronwyn Baud) and Lynette 'Squeaky' Fromme (Marcia Brown) bond together over a shared affection for Charles Manson and their flippant, clumsy approach to the task in hand is brisk and compelling.  The ensemble of upstanding American citizens who represent the masses are bedecked in well-chosen finery dominated by fine fabric and furs illustrating the 'vaudeville limbo' intended, aided by jaunty, festive, all-American music from the band.

Sarah Jane Moore once stated when asked about her attempted assassination of Gerald Ford that it was “at the time a correct expression of [her] anger”. Assassins provocatively challenges accepted notions of correctness, expression and anger, and calls into question ideas of motive and causation. It is no mistake that the presidents in this production are an almost invisible party since the assassins are proffered the limelight; an exceptional cast under Ray Rackham's direction accept the offer completely.

Pleasance Theatre
Carpenter's Mews, North Road, London N7 9EF

Box Office: 020 7609 1800

Tickets: £15.00


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