Assassins

Mon 12th – Fri 23rd August 2013

reviews

Samuel Graydon

at 01:27 on 16th Aug 2013

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I am now quite well versed in the madmen of American history, or at least the really mad madmen. This, generally fast paced, exploration of the nature of murder and the drives behind such an act is very informative, viewed on a purely factual basis.

Yet, of course, I am not going to simply view the play as an informative broadcast. Dramatically it was, likewise, interesting. The meshing together of what could have been a chronological repetition of each character’s individual story kept the interest high, especially as it was delivered with a largely quick tempo. I say “largely", as the insertion of monologues by the attempted assassin Sam Byck broke up the flow of the action somewhat.

This is not to say that James Ellis (who played Byck) did not do a sterling job. In fact, the monologues themselves were very engaging, and I felt were the deepest and most convincing exploration of the motives of assassination in the entire play. It is just a shame they were so opposed to the relatively joyful and frolicking atmosphere of the majority of the musical.

For joyful it was; there was a sense of fun about the Cambridge troupe’s work. This especially shone through in the strong participation from the actors in more supporting roles. One scene where they performed a queue as some kind of country dance made me smile largely. Yet, this said, it was mainly smiling that I was involved in, and not full frontal laughing. There was fun, but not frivolity.

I was unsure what the play was trying to achieve with the genre of the musical, for it did not have the complete barrage of joy that one expects from such a category, nor did it have the overtly dramatic involvement of something like ‘Les Misérables’. As such, I expected to laugh more than I did, I expected more jokes, and frankly more jazz hands. As long as you understand that this is not what you will receive, then it is an enjoyable and pleasant performance. However, if you're expecting a straight-up musical, then perhaps, despite the historical interest and clever scripting, you will not feel you have enjoyed yourself as much as you ought to have.

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Ben Williams

at 02:04 on 16th Aug 2013

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I think that it would be fair to describe 'Assassins' as a cross between 'Chicago' and a 'Horrible Histories' book. Indeed, the students from Cambridge University's Musical Theatre and Amateur Dramatic societies presented a fun, slick and surprisingly educational musical that left me with a huge smile on my face.

The show takes the audience on a trip through American history, focusing on assassination attempts on various Presidents, both successful and unsuccessful. If this premise weren't entertaining enough, the show is set at a fairground stall, with the Proprietor, Matt Elliot-Ripley, providing targets adorned with cut-outs of the Presidents to shoot down. Yet the show was also much more than this. It took into account interpretations of the American Dream and the role of assassination in history and wider culture, as well as exploring in detail the different motivations of the wannabe villains.

The musical numbers themselves were original and witty. The combination of musical styles, from American country music (with harmonicas and mandolins) to quasi-Sondheim numbers using speech as well as song, was exceptionally effective and refreshing. Similarly effective was the sheer amount of polish and professionalism used throughout. Scene and costume changes were faultless, the blocking on the ‘thrust’ stage was clever and well-executed.

On the whole, the musical rattled along at a terrific pace, with limited speech between the musical numbers to maximise the time effectively. The only real flaw on this count was Jamie Ellis' monologues as Sam Byck, who attempted to fly a plane into the White House. Although the monologues were really exceptional in their own right, and probably signalled Ellis out as the best actor in the group, they had a completely different dynamic quality to the rest of the play, which revolved almost entirely around musical numbers, and therefore upset the pace a little.

Still, the cast was not without its weaker members. Aydan Greatrick and Sara Jane Moore, for example, struggled vocally to keep up with the likes of Will Karani. Rory Boyd also attempted valiantly to play the guitar, although his clear discomfort with the instrument was blindingly obvious. In fact, the cast really worked best as an ensemble, be it as a group of country dancers or melodramatic eyewitnesses, it was these group numbers that provided the show’s most memorable moments.

Overall the piece was really quite interesting, but without taking itself too seriously. It’s just the ticket if you are looking for some lighter entertainment with a great cast, and for musical fans it is a must.

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