Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. First performed in 1991, Stephen Sondheim’s musical Assassins has sadly lost none of its topicality regarding gun culture or the ‘disenfranchised’ lunatics who wield such weapons.
As Roger Hodgman, who directs this brilliant new production for the Black Swan State Theatre Company, writes in his program note: ‘In the opening scene, it is impossible to watch the Proprietor hand round guns to the odd group of misfits, loners and angry people that went on the attempt assassinations without thinking about the burning issue of guns in contemporary America … [T]owards the end, the lyrics uncannily echo the words of many of the angry and disappointed voters who elected Donald Trump.’
Assassins – a funny, macabre (though not quite in the same way as Sweeney Todd) revue of sorts – brings together killers and would-be killers of US presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Ronald Reagan. In ‘conversation’ with Black Swan’s concurrent production of David Greig’s The Events (2013), which deals with the aftermath of a mass shooting, it makes for doubly compelling theatre.
With a book by John Weidman and based on an idea by Charles Gilbert Jr, Assassins opens in a fairground shooting gallery. Here, designer Lawrie Cullen-Tait and lighting designer Mark Howett meld historicism and nightmare to hint at a seedy, decadent vision of Pax Americana, where the Proprietor (Luke Hewitt) has laid out his deadly wares to tempt the nine assassins.