Through the stripes of a craftily constructed American flag, suits loom on a multi-levelled rostrum as lighting throws the eyes of their wearers into dark, empty sockets. Immobile for at least ten minutes before the show begins they set up an underlying tension that is only amplified as Assassins progresses.
Tumbling with a haphazard grace through American history, the Balladeer and the Proprietor (in standout performances from Niall Docherty and Femi Nylander) flit in and out of the lives of nine desperate, disillusioned and, in some cases, manic-depressive Americans who all arrive at the same conclusion: it is imperative to kill the President.
Each scene resonates a poignant desperation as director Silas Elliott succeeds in creating nuanced, human portraits of what so easily could have become caricatures. Tempered with just the right amount of humour, Assassins evinces laughter in the most unlikely places.
Luke Rollason in particular demonstrates superb comic timing whilst playing Guiteau, displaying a dark humour in the direst of circumstances. United by a desire to kill Gerald Ford, the two female assassins Sara Jane Moore (Blathnaid McCullagh) and Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme (Heloise Lowenthal) share a delightful rapport as they bicker and bond whilst in cahoots (never having met in reality).
To counter Assassins’ imaginative transgression of temporal boundaries, biographical information about each character is displayed in the foyer – a reminder to the audience that these stories cannot be restricted to fiction.
Stunning vocals from every actor reveal that musically, Assassinsis a triumph. All ten of the major characters are impressively strong soloists whilst simultaneously able to deliver tight harmonies. Despite a few instances of musical imbalance when orchestra overpowered singer, the cast rallied to communicate the extreme passion and fervour of their respective characters.
Beautifully staged, ensemble pieces are embellished by simple yet effective props, absolute co-ordination and dramatic use of blood-red lighting. Omnipresent throughout the course of the play, the stars and stripes of the American flag provide a fragmented background for various projections: the faces of Presidents, Emma Goldman delivering a radical speech and JFK’s car as he heads towards his death.
Boasting a professionalism unusual to student productions,Assassins is guaranteed to impress. Strikingly resonant with current turbulence and dissatisfaction with the Obama administration, the show’s series of assassination attempts spanning the last century (from Abraham Lincoln in 1861 to the attempt on Ronald Reagan, 1981) serve to underline uncomfortable truths.
Near the close of the play in an uncanny reversal of the opening scene, it is the assassins themselves – those who have slipped through the cracks of the American dream – who slot into the darkness between the white stripes. Emotive, aesthetic and energising, Assassins is certainly killing it.
Assassins is playing at the Keble O’Reilly Theatre until 29th November
PHOTO/ Assassins Publicity