Tag Archives: Dark Musicals

Assassins – at The Pleasance, Islington until April 7th 2012

Not so much a bang as a whimper…

It’s Sondheim’s musical about nine of the fourteen individuals who have tried to assassinate American presidents, from Lincoln to Reagan. It was always going to be a little weird – and that is what is great about this musical – the selection of  madcap characters, each marginalised in their own way and wiling to commit the ultimate crime in order to gain notoriety, power or revenge.

This production at The Pleasance (a new venue for me, a good space and thankfully comfortable seating…) is from 2nd Company Productions. They have brought a strong cast together who expose the contradictions and absurdities of their would-be murderers well. In particular, Brandon Force shone as the manically-positive Charles Giteau whose jazz hands all the way to the gallows were reminiscent of Monty Python. Alexander Forsyth was also compelling as the more sombre assassin Leon Czolgosz.

Picture by Francis Loney. The Assassins: Marcia Brown (Lynette 'Squeaky' Fromme), Bo Frazier (John Hinckley), Tim McArthur (Samuel Byck), Padraig Breathnach (Guiseppe Zangara), Johnjo Flynn (Lee Harvey Oswald), Martin Dickinson (John Wilkes Booth), Alexander Forsyth (Leon Czolgosz), Brandon Force (Charles Guiteau), Bronwyn Baud (Sara Jane Moore)

The ensemble numbers worked well as did the costumes, yet something still didn’t quite click. There was an inconsistency in the clarity of each Assassin’s story – the two female assassins were remarkably interesting and followable, but it was difficult to see the point of every single one to the same extent – maybe a cut of one or two of the remainder would have made for a tighter flow.

A lovely looking production with some great performances, just lacking the ‘wow’ factor to top it all off.

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Parade – Southwark Playhouse until 17th September

Image from guardian.co.uk

In a damp area beneath the arches of London Bridge until September 17th lurks something quite unexpected – a real theatrical treat set in smalltown Georgia.

Parade is an irresistible musical – having listened to the soundtrack hundreds of times, from the initial drumbeat of the opening song ‘The Old Red Hills of Home’ I tend to develop goosebumps in anticipation. The combination of Jason Robert Brown’s fantastic composition and Alfred Uhry’s book, based upon a true story of the murder trial of Leo Frank, it can hardly be beaten for quality and sheer immersiveness. It’s a simple formula of a gripping tale, accessorised with period detail and prejudices and expressed through a wonderful soundtrack.

This production has used promenade staging with audiences on either side of a central ‘catwalk’, plunging the viewers right into the centre of the action. The choreography is second to none, capturing the frenzy and anger of the local community in reaction to the central tragedy – the momentum generated is immense and the result visually spectacular.

The characterisation here is important, and the focus on the central relationship of Leo and his wife Lucille is not neglected – a great performance from Laura Pitt-Pulford captures this strong, frustrated and capable heroine’s struggle as her awkward husband is accused of a dreadful crime. Another outstanding performance comes from Terry Doe as Jim Conley, who captures this slippery character to perfection.

This is a great chance to catch a classic of modern musical theatre, and is a steal at the price – the Southwark Playhouse operates ‘airline-style’ pricing which means the earlier you book, the cheaper your ticket. The maximum price is £22.50. One tip would be to take along something to sit on as the seating can be slightly uncomfortable… That was really the only drawback of a truly great evening though, so well worth a visit.

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