Assassins – Gate Theatre, Dublin

Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim

Book:  John Weidman

Director: Selina Cartmell

What does one expect from a Sondheim musical? Irish and international audiences alike have been thrilled for many years by the dynamic musical compositions and quirky lyrics of Stephen Sondheim. As such, this production of Assassins has a lot to live up to, and something about this production falls short of expectation.

The musical tells the story of nine individuals who have tried (and in some cases succeeded) to assassinate a US President. This might seem like an unusual theme for a piece of musical theatre, and at times the subject matter can be problematic.

However, Assassins is also intelligent, witty, and ponderous, and these are the aspects of the production that set the tone. The production’s nine assassins are bound together by the weight of their actions, but Assassins also acknowledges each character’s own individual motives, which is often a thirst for attention and notoriety.

But, deep down, these are troubled people and some of the strongest moments in this production are the moments of real empathy between the audience and the characters. Dan Gordon’s evocative portrayal of Samuel Byck (who failed to assassinate Richard Nixon) is one of the most effective of the production and is delivered with a skilful subtlety.

Comic relief is also plentiful. The duo of Kate Gilmore (playing Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme) and Aoibhéann McCann (playing Sara Jane Moore) Ford) play beautifully against each other, demonstrating with comedic aplomb their doomed-to-fail attempt on Gerald Ford’s life.

The set, designed by Sarah Bacon, is carnivalesque and macabre. The colours of the US flag (red, white, and blue) are a consistent motif across the set, costume (also by Bacon), and lighting (Sinéad McKenna). This is a clever strategy to unify a production that at times feels like it is going in a few different directions, and it works.

However, despite solid performances, an excellent score, and an intriguing storyline, there is just something amiss in this production of Assassins. There are moments when the cast seem slightly under-rehearsed, and the usual dynamism of a Sondheim musical is absent. Maybe it is the subject matter that doesn’t quite land, but there is a hesitancy to this piece that just doesn’t live up to expectation.

Nonetheless, Assassins provides an entertaining evening, with intriguing subject matter that is sure to get conversation flowing.

Runs until 9 June 2018 | Image: Agata Stoinska


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