By David Heathcote
Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning musical Assassins presents the nine men and women who made successful or unsuccessful attempts on the lives of US presidents since Abraham Lincoln.
Sondheim’s music and the characters are complex and the immensely talented Dewsbury Arts Group cast performing at the Artspace mastered both under the direction of the brilliant David Fletcher. Assassins is an ensemble piece and the cast, who perform in principal roles across the area, skilfully managed the task of taking centre stage when it was their turn in the proprietor’s fairground assassination game while strongly supporting each other in ensemble.
The characterisation from all cast members was superb, each applying their theatrical instincts to portraying the assassins and communicating their motives through expert delivery of dialogue.
There was an interesting contrast between the assassins – driven by anger at the perceived social or economic failure of Lincoln, McKinley and Hoover through to the attention-seeking attempt on Regan’s life – and the embodiment of the American Dream in the Balladeer. The puppet-master roles of the fairground proprietor and, intriguingly, John Wilkes Booth were similarly strong in building this fascinating story.
The story builds to that fateful day on the Grassy Knoll in Dallas in 1963 and presents an interesting idea for what drove Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate John F Kennedy: the legacy of this gallery of assassins and the destruction of the rosy American Dream.
Despite a shocking final scene there is humour in the piece and some great tunes which many in the audience were singing on their way out. Some were heard planning when they would see the show again such was this opening night success.
The show runs until this Saturday, July 1 at the Artspace, Lower Peel Street, Dewsbury.