“Everybody’s got the right to some sunshine.“
Tuesday 27th March, 2012 – They’re Coming
My friend Steve B, and I, headed to the ‘Pleasance Theatre‘, London, to see Sondheim’s, Assassins.
The play explores nine of the twenty-odd attempts on the life of US Presidents, from John Wilkes Booth to John Hinckley, Jr. Instead of focusing on the assassinations, the play strives to understand the assassins, and their reasons for attempting to, and sometimes succeeding to, assassinate US Presidents, climaxing in a ‘dreamlike’ sequence, in which Lee Harvey Oswald is surrounded by the assassins of the past and future, who convince him that he is the key to connecting them all as one.
“Free Country, means a right to expect, that you’ll have an effect.“
The play begins with the song ‘Everybody’s got the right‘, in which we meet the nine assassins. Each assassin is ‘issued’ a gun and, after they have been given ammunition, they take aim at the audience as ‘Hail to the Chief’ is played. At this point John Wilkes Booth excuses himself and a shot rings out, and Booth is heard, off stage, saying ‘Sic semper tyrannis.’ The scene then changes to that of Booth, with a broken leg, hiding out in a barn, trying to right down his reasons for the assassination. His story is told with ‘The ballad of Booth‘, by the ‘Balladeer’.
We then see the male assassins. Charles Guiteau toasts the Presidency, John Hinckley, Jr breaks a bottle and Leon Czolgosz loses his temper. Guiseppe Zangara complains about stomach pains and Booth tells him that, in order to cure his pain, he should shoot President Roosevelt. The radio then announces Zangara’s failed assassination attempt, and we are introduced to five bystanders, who sing, ‘How I saved Roosevelt‘. Czolgosz sings from his ‘electric chair’ but is annoyed that there are no cameras.
Sarah Jane Moore and Lynette Fromme meet on a park bench, with Fromme spouting out the teachings of her lover, Charles Manson. Moore goes over her life history, real and imagines, until both women connect with hatred for their fathers. They then shoot a bucket of KFC, before laughing hysterically about the fact that they both know Charles Manson from different times.
Czolgosz, Booth, Guiteau and Moore all join in a barbershop quartet and sing, ‘The gun song‘, in which Czolgosz decides that he will kill President McKinley. While the Balladeer sings ‘The ballad of Czolgasz‘, Czolgasz meets President McKinley and assassinates him.
We then meet Samuel Byck who, dressed in a dirty Santa suit, is talking into a tape recorder and recording his thoughts about crashing an aeroplane into the White House, in order to kill President Nixon.
John Hinckley is then seen sitting on a stool, trying to play a guitar as Fromme enters. She spies a picture of Jodie Foster and teases Hinckley about it, by pulling out a picture of Manson and singing ‘Unworthy of your love‘. A picture of President Reagan appears and Hinckley shoots it. Missing each time, the Proprieter mocks Hinckley with Reagan quips.
Charles Guiteau is giving shooting tips to Sarah Jane Moore and tells her that he is to be the next Ambassador to France. Moore rebuffs his flirting attempts and the scene changes to a train station and Guiteau meets President Garfield. Guiteau believes he will be made Ambasador to France, because of a speech that Guiteau wrote for President Garfield. Guiteau is mocked by Garfield, who Guiteau promptly shoots. We then see Guiteau going to the gallows with the show-stopping number, ‘The ballad of Guiteau‘.
Moore and Fromme meet to assassinate President Ford and, much to Fromme’s dismay, Moore has brought her son and her dog, which she shoots accidentally, along. An argument ensues and they drop their guns as President Ford enters. Not recognising him, until it’s too late, they have no recourse but to throw the bullets at him, shouting ‘bang‘ as they do.
Byck records another message to President Nixon, as he is on his way to the airport to hijack an aeroplane to crash into the White House.
The assassins meet up and try to understand why their dreams haven’t been met. The balladeer tries to make them see that there are other ways to achieve their dreams. The song, ‘Another National Anthem‘ plays and the assassins sing it louder and louder until the Balladeer is forced off stage.
The scene changes to that of a sixth-storey store room in the Texas School Book Depository. Lee Harvey Oswald is about to kill himself, but is interrupted by Booth. Scaring Oswald with information of his past, Booth tries to convince Oswald to make a difference by assassinating President Kennedy, rather than killing himself. From the sides of the stage, the other assassins all appear and, as one, try to convince Oswald, that if he kills President Kennedy, they will all become one in history. Oswald takes the rifle from Booth and moves towards the window. Taking aim, he fires, as the assassins sing, ‘November 22nd, 1963‘.
After the assassinations, the bystanders tell where they were when the President died with the song, ‘Something just broke‘.
The assassins regroup one more time for the reprise of ‘Everybody’s got the right‘.
At just over 90 minutes, the show is a perfect length and that the cast were brillaint. It was really interesting to see how such dark parts of American history can be made into such a thought-provoking stage play and musical. The set was incredible and deserves to be seen by as many theatre goers as possible, as does the play. Ray Rackham has put together a clever and versatile group of actors, who have each put in 100%, which shows on stage. Even though everyone gave a sterling turn, a few actors did, for me, stand out.
Martin Dickinson, as John Wilkes Booth, was absolutely brilliant. His presence drew your attention everytime he took to the stage and, from seeing his list of credits, I can understand why.
Brandon Force was mesmerising, with his extroverted portrayal, of Charles Guiteau, which was fresh and not too over the top.
Alexander Forsyth, as Leon Czolgasz, gave a supremely introverted display as the man who believes that killing the President will change everyone’s lives.
Bronwyn Baud gave an absolutely entertaining portrayal as Sarah Jane Moore.
2ND COMPANY PRODUCTIONS
MUSIC & LYRICS BY STEPHEN SONDHEIM
BOOK WRITTEN BY JOHN WEIDMAN
DIRECTOR RAY RACKHAM
CHOREOGRAPHER CHRIS WHITTAKER
MUSICAL DIRECTOR JOE BUNKER
ASSASSINS runs from 21 March – 7 April 2012
THE PLEASANCE THEATRE
On Wednesday 28th March 2012, Jonathan Ross made this ‘tweet’
jonathan ross @wossy
Just home from watching Sondheim’s Assassins at the Pleasance Theatre. Great show and it’s on for 2 more weeks. Grab your tickets now!