Assassins is completely different to anything I’ve ever seen. It follows the story of the 13 people who have attempted (with mixed success) to kill the president of the United States. Initially I had been planning to see the Menier Chocolate Factory production as I’m a big Aaron Tveit fan but unfortunately about three weeks before my ticket was booked he left the show! However, staying true to my ‘see the show because of the show not because of who’s in it’ beliefs I was still looking forward to experiencing my next Sondheim musical.
Upon entering the Menier Chocolate Factory I knew I was in for an entirely different kind of theatrical experience. The only way I can really describe the theatre is ‘kind of out the back of a cafe’ as the way you enter is through a small door at the back of the Menier restaurant. After that it’s through an incredibly ominous looking clown face into a tiny theatre with seats on both sides of a central stage. There’s a strange-looking guy playing the banjo and it feels like a deserted funfair – as the show unfolds and the attempted assassinations begin large ‘hit’ and ‘miss’ signs light up relating to the fate of their respective presidents. At this point I realised I was definitely not in for a fun, relaxing night at the theatre but even though it all looked a bit bizarre it only seemed to encourage my interest in the show further.
For me, the main selling point of the show is the incredibly talented cast. There isn’t a weak link here – everyone is absolutely brilliant and had they been any less talented I really wouldn’t have enjoyed the show nearly as much. I spent rather a lot of the time wanting to stand up and give standing ovations at inappropriate moments but there wasn’t even time for normal clapping due to the edge-of-your-seat action unfolding right in front of me! Easily my favourite moment of the show was the duet between Carly Bawden and Harry Morrison Unworthy Of Your Love. I’m a sucker for any belty-love song and this sort of fits the bill, although not entirely conventionally! Bawden’s voice is allowed to shine and Morrison brings a strange, adorable charm to this scene. I was also blown away by Micheal Xavier’s The Ballad Of Booth, his vocals were so faultless and passionate, and this song coming at such an early moment in the show really filled me with confidence for the rest of the production. Catherine Tate was also hilarious (hardly surprising really!) and had me in fits every time she came on stage.
Watching the drama unfold in the old Chocolate Factory left me feeling like there was really no other space that would have suited the show better. Its intimate nature allowed the even the audience at the back to see the actors expressions in detail and feel totally immersed in the performance. Being such an intense show (involving lots of pointing guns at the audience) I really can’t imagine it working so well in a larger scale theatre. The two sides of seats also helped intensify the performance as you could see the audience opposite to you reacting to the goings on in the relatively small area in which the action takes place. Though small, director Jamie Lloyd has used the space brilliantly and it even includes a small orchestra at the far end. The actors also make trips up the stairs to sit among the audience which only adds to the drama, especially when they’re carrying guns! Set design is fittingly creepy and I loved the idea of the big hit and miss signs which really added to the dark humour of the show. Lighting is also brilliant and definitely makes great use of shadow to add to the spooky mood.
There’s really nothing I can compare this show to – it’s totally unique and that’s what makes it so interesting. I still don’t know if I loved it or was just plain terrified, but I can’t see why those two things wouldn’t go hand in hand. Let’s just say it’s terrifyingly brilliant and if you want a night of intense, gripping musical theatre then Assassins at the Menier Chocolate Factory is the place to be.
Assassins is playing until March 7th at the Menier Chocolate Factory.