Watch This has decided to open with Assassins, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by John Weidman. While some might feel this a lesser known piece that has seldom been performed in Australia, it does have a wide, almost cult-like following. This is a challenging, yet accessible work that does not have a conventional narrative, but instead presents a merger of fact and fiction, bringing together nine of America's would-be and notorious assassins in a series of scenes.
Within a carnival-like setting, we begin with a passionate John Wilkes Booth who sets the tone when he kills Abraham Lincoln. As we zig zag through time we encounter lesser known assassins Charles Guiteau and Leon Czolgosz, and would be assassins Guiseppe Zangara, Samuel Byck, John Hinckley, Lynette Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, until the final climactic scene in the Dallas School Book Depository with Lee Harvey Oswald.
Attempts are not made to pass judgement on these individuals, but rather present them in particular (and mostly fictional) circumstances that may or may not have influenced their paths. The references to social circumstances and America's ongoing gun ownership issues are obvious. Disillusionment with the great American Dream seeps through all of these characters' lives.
This production, while managing to blend the real and often surreal moments together quite well, succeeds in part rather than as a whole.
Moments that do stand out include the strong performance and rich singing voice of Mark Dickinson (as Booth) and his crucial scene with Oswald (also well played by Nick Simpson-Deeks). There is a chilling, disturbing scene between Hinckley (Matt Holly) and Fromme (Sonya Suares), where Hinckley's obsession with a young Jodie Foster are displayed while they sing Unworthy of Your Love – Hinckley to Foster and Fromme to Charles Manson.
There are also many moments of rather ridiculous humour as the unbelievably stupid attempts on the life of Gerald Ford by Fromme and Moore (Nadine Garner) are hilariously played out.
Tyran Parke, probably better known for his own musical appearances, has taken on the challenge of directing the show, and in the wide space of fortyfivedownstairs, with a nice uncomplicated design, this mostly works well. Luke Byrne compliments the production with a small band of musicians, but perhaps the arrangements could have created a more fuller sound.
The night I attended the venue was packed, so word of mouth seems to have escaped. Judging by some comments and the rousing reception at the end, if this production and future works from the fresh company continue to have this effect, it can only be good for the Melbourne theatrical scene.
Watch This presents
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim | Book by John Weidman
Director Tyran Parke
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: 11 – 21 April, 2013
Times: Wednesday to Saturday 7.30pm, Sunday 5pm, matinee: Wednesday 17 April, 1.30pm
Duration: 90 minutes
Tickets: $39 – $29
Bookings: (03) 9662 9966