Theatre Review: Sondheim’s Assassins is locked and loaded in good hands (Hayes Theatre, Sydney until 22nd October)

Sondheim, as always, has to make things difficult. If it’s not in his chords then it’s the subject matter of his musicals. However Assassins, one of the more rarely performed of the Sondheim repertoire, finds itself locked and loaded in good hands with Dean Bryant at this latest production at the Hayes.

Superb casting all round! David Campbell is of course outstanding as the lead assassin John Wilkes Booth- entirely unrecognizable from his morning television persona or even his most recent musical role as Bobby Darin in Dream Lover. Bobby Fox has a showstopper performance in his fun number “The Ballad of Guiteau”, which drew a resounding round of applause. Dangerous ladies Kate Cole and Hannah Fredericksen have an absolutely wonderful chemistry on stage as Moore and Fromme respectively- offering some fabulous moments of quirky humor. Also a standout was Maxwell Simon in his role as the Balladeer- and I must draw particular attention to his inspiring ability to not drop a single note of song whilst energetically jumping rope *claps admiringly*

But I really must be fair, and say that the star of the show was the incredible set design by Alicia Clements. What a magical wonderland of a fairground! Sparkling show signs, swing sets, carousel horses, moving bumper cars, pinball machines, assortments of wacky guns, and just lights everywhere! It was truly the best set I have seen yet at the Hayes, and it captured a good deal of my awe from the moment I entered the theatre. Just look at this!

So! The problem I have with Assassins is nothing to do with this quite wonderful production. Just with the show itself. Two of my favourite things about musicals are absent from Sondheim’s Assassins: firstly- the type of songs that either wiggle their way into your head so you leave the theatre humming or those that cause immense amounts of emotion when you hear them. And secondly- characters with which you can form some bond of empathy, or build some sort of hopes for. Unfortunately when you’re quite literally dealing with a bunch of murderers (and would-be murderers) it’s hard to want to form any attachment to them.

But as I said, faults with the show itself and not with the production.

And the production is most definitely worth the hour fourty five runtime, especially at the hands of this cast and amongst this most spectacular set. The dialogue is witty and the songs blend easily into the landscape of the show.

And there are some truly affecting scenes. At one particular moment the cast come to a halt and slowly raise their guns to point directly into the audience. Being at the Hayes where the stage is essentially equal with the seating means the guns are aimed almost directly into your face. Despite knowing of course that it is a show, and that one of those guns is a bright green and orange watergun, you just can’t help but feel that shiver of intimidation as you hold your breath waiting for them to be lowered once more.

Everybody’s got the right to see Assassins at the Hayes Theatre Co, now playing until 22nd October. For more information and to book visit hayestheatre.com.au