Left – Nick Eynaud, Caitilin Beresford Ord, Brendan Hanson, Natasha Vickery, Will O'Mahony. Cover – Will O'Mahony, Natasha Vickery, Nick Eynaud, Caitlin Beresford Ord, Brendan Hanson. Photos – Philip Gostelow
It’s hard to convey the anticipation of a new (to me!) Sondheim work. Brilliant intelligent lyrics are guaranteed, gorgeous music a dead cert, my only trepidation is can the company rise to the level of the Master’s creation? In this case I am delighted to report the State Theatre production soars magnificently to deliver a wonderful piece. This is ensemble work of the highest order.
It is also easy to see why this Sondheim creation has so rarely been mounted. It was first staged off Broadway in 2000 and the Broadway debut in 2004. It’s dense and demanding, of the audience, as well as the cast and musicians. The music is not the lightly lyrical Sondheim style of Into the Woods or A Little Night Music. It is more incidental to the action, although the 9 strong song list is impressive none of them will have you leave the theatre humming the tunes. Sondheim aficionados will immediately identify with his signature syncopations and the lovely layering together of unlikely keys
A fairground setting introduces a rogue’s gallery of 9 ne'er-do-wells. The Proprietor spruiks the game enticing them to play, promising that their problems will be solved by killing a President of the United States, with the song Everybody’s Got the Right. An episodic series of windows show the various circumstances that have led to each of the men and women have committed (or attempted to commit) this ultimate crime.
The set by Lawrie Cullen-Tait is a bleak series of double-storied grey stone arches which are cleverly utilized by video designer Michael Carmody and lighting designer Mark Howett, who fill the arches with relevant images for each of the assassin’s plots. Because most of the audience are not au fait with all of these attempted American murders a lot of information is interpolated via projection during each segment. The technical work involved in this staging is excellent.
In order to set up an historical scenario there is a deal of information to be conveyed to the audience. My only small criticism of this remarkable endeavour was that the first segment, that of John Wilkes Booth attack on Abraham Lincoln was slightly overlong. An audience cannot be left to mentally wander for a second in the vital set-up time for a show.
You will note I have steered clear of individual bouquets for actors here. That is because it is difficult not to heap enough praise upon them all individually. I refer you to the Black Swan website. Few were familiar artists to me but what a lot of wonderful output from WAAPA . Plaudits to all. Fabulous characterisations and admirable company teamwork.
Mention must be made of the costuming by Lyn Ferguson who perfectly conveyed the strange, oft amusing mental state of the differing would-be executioners.
Assassins still sends an alarming message to the powerful who would ignore the dis-enfranchised at their peril.
Black Swan Theatre Company presents
music and lyrics Stephen Sondheim | book John Weidman
Director Roger Hodgman
Venue: Heath Ledger Theatre | State Theatre Centre of WA
Dates: 20 June – 1 July 2018