To give the audience a taste of what is to come, even before the curtain goes up on Assassins at Chichester’s Festival Theatre, they are treated to all the razzmatazz of an American election rally with clowns, teddy bears, lions and cheer leader girls dancing around the stage and encouraging a succession of Mexican waves.
On stage comes a Donald Trump style figure (a rousing Peter Forbes) to rally the audience to join him in his election rally of the justice in killing an American president which opens the door to the real life, crazed, group of men and women who gained fame by either assassinating or attempting to assassinate a US president.
This ear splitting mix of cabaret, comedy and drama is backed with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and played by a band in baseball caps, led by musical director Jo Cichonska setting the pace and the pathos of this slightly uneasy play where guns are fired at will and often into the audience but future play goers be assured only blanks were sued.
To a carnival background we are introduced to the assassins, both successful and failed, starting with,John Wilkes Booth (strong performance by Danny Mac) who shot President Lincoln in 1865, to fight, he believes injustices during the American Civil War.
As the actors dance round the stage or walk up the aisles and outstanding is Nick Holder dressed as a drunken Father Christmas, making plain his hatred of Government, and coming face to face with members of the audience even inciting one to copy him swearing. The F-word punctures the script.
The successful assassins tells why they killed as well as the failed ones such as Lynette, 'Squeaky' Fromme (Carly Mercedes Dyer), a Charles Manson convert and gun happy Sara Jane Moore (Amy Booth-Steel) whose shot missed President Gerald Ford by inches. Both women gave outstanding performances.
The parade of killers or would be killers continues, interspersed with electric chair, guillotine and hanging executions chilling the atmosphere, till the last assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, (Samuel Thomas), who in a rousing, jazzy, number performed by all the cast is bullied into killing President Kennedy.
Polly Findlay has produced inspired direction – not easy to handle such a diverse but fine cast – and choreographer Neil Bettles created exciting dancing in what is a very loud, flag waving, musical in very bad taste but also very entertaining.
Assassins runs until June 24.
Review by Sheila Checkley