Wednesday, 31 December 2014

'Assassins' at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Our final theatre trip of 2014 was back to the Choccy Factory to see the new production of Sondheim's 'Assassins' and a less Christmassy musical would be hard to find. I saw a production of this play five or six years ago at the Union Theatre so I was familiar with the bones of the story but it's always interesting to see what the Choccy Factory does with its productions - several have transferred to the the West End and a couple to Broadway (both productions of Sondheim's work) so it has a good track record.

'Assassins' is loosely based on the stories of people who have assassinated - or attempted to assassinate - American presidents. It's an odd premise and probably makes more sense to Americans whose history this is (I hadn't heard of some of the presidents named).

It begins with John Wilkes Booth killing Abraham Lincoln and and he appears in subsequent scenes down the years persuading others to kill other presidents. The ensemble of assassins grows in the run up to the attempts on Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan and then we flash back to 1963 with Booth and the others, including those yet to come, persuading Lee Harvey Oswald to shoot the president. He is the assassin that gives them meaning, that will inspire future assassins, that will take them all into immortality. He takes aim and fires.

I'm not sure what to make of the play, really. It's an interesting concept but I'm not terribly interested in a set of killers and would-be killers. I'm also not sure about this production. I liked the minimal staging but, as a musical, it doesn't really stay with me. I know they sang lots of songs but none of them seem particularly memorable and they seem to be more talk-singing than singing-singing (if you know what I mean). I sat there waiting for it to take off and it didn't. Maybe I wasn't in the right mood?

The star turns were Mike McShane (as the drunken Santa Claus assassin) who seems to turn up every now and then (as he has over the past three decades) and Catherine Tate who throws bullets at Gerald Ford. I've not seen Catherine on stage before so it was nice to see her but I'm not sure why she's doing this play at all since it's hardly a star turn role and she's only doing it for another week or two before handing over to someone else. Maybe the hint is that she'll be doing more theatre in future? I hope so.

Anyway, there you have it, my final theatre visit for 2014. Let's see what 2015 has in store...

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