Theatre Review: Everybody Wants To Shoot A President In Assassins

Assassins, Pleasance Theatre ★★★☆☆

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 15 months ago

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Theatre Review: Everybody Wants To Shoot A President In Assassins Assassins, Pleasance Theatre 3

"You wanna shoot a president?" That's the question asked in the opening number of Assassins, Stephen Sondheim's play that looks at the nine people who attempted to murder eight American presidents. Some succeeded, others failed — but that's not important.

Early on, the show feels like disjointed sketches: unconnected historical incidents, strewn together by an imagined meeting on the astral plane. However, some of the sketches are great, the hanging of James Garfield's assassin — Charles Guiteau (brilliantly played by Andrew Pepper) — and the accompanying song is a standout. Others are largely forgettable, and leave the production feeling aimless. That is, until the play hits its stride in its final stretch, when all the narratives come together beautifully.

The set is minimal and there's an excellent decision made in its portrayal of the presidents. Actors wear paper masks of said presidents, during the assassination attempts. It looks cheap but reinforces that this isn't a play about them.

Staging a play about assassinating the president in 2018 feels more loaded than ever before on two fronts. The first is obvious: America currently has its most divisive president ever. The production has a wry wink at The Donald, but fails to address the other elephant in the room; angry people feeling excluded by the world, and using violence to make their voice heard. While this play dives into the psyche of the assassins, it never fully grapples with this topic. Though perhaps that is too much to ask of this already clever musical.

Assassins, Pleasance Theatre, Carpenter Mews, N7 9EF, £16-£18. Until 8 April 2018.

Last Updated 26 March 2018