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by on 25 July 2022

Shooting Pains


music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by John Weidman

BB Theatre Productions at Oakwood Centre, Woodley until 24th July

Review by John Davies

Performing Sondheim is a challenge for any company; conveying the complexity of emotions across a multitude of characters in Assassins doubly so; then making the disparate stories work as a seamless whole – triple whammy!  BB Theatre Productions’ recent show, at the Oakwood Centre in Woodley, rose magnificently to those challenges with cast, production team and musicians combining expertly to deliver an enthralling evening.

The roles are demanding – calling for precision vocals with a dynamic emotional range and strong characterisation.  The cast delivered in spades, taking us on an engaging journey, as they wrestled with their physical and mental pains.  The individual performances were both engaging and credible – which is not easy working with only snapshot glimpses of historical figures at the apotheoses of their lives.  And the standard of vocals across the whole cast was superb.

Each of the ‘actual’ or ‘would-be’ assassins brought a different perspective to the pressures and driving force behind their actions – each of them despairing of or seeking to reignite the American Dream.  While each Assassin gave a considered and compelling performance, I would highlight some outstanding performances – Matthew Harcourt as John Wilkes Booth, who brought an impressive presence and strength to the stage, demanding we take notice of him; Tyler Fagan, who at times truly seemed to inhabit the disturbed mind of Giuseppe Zangara – his whole body conveying his final moments of madness; Lucy Smith, who’s nervy fanaticism for Charles Manson was physically palpable, even when just watching proceedings; and Dan Stark, who brought a quiet, but threatening intensity to his frustrations and bitterness at life’s unfairness.

There is a risk in a production that focuses on individual stories, that it can seem fragmented, so congratulations must go to director TJ Lloyd for ensuring that the distinct elements coalesced into a seamless whole.  The use of the Balladeer and Proprietor (variously voyeurs, commentators and at times instigators) to not only link scenes, but to weave a thread through the historical narrative, was excellent.  I would make special mention of Alex Alderson (the Proprietor), who appeared to be the “puppet master” of the proceedings – often just in the background or subtly changing the staging – but always seeming to be a controlling presence, despite minimal action or lib – a strong testament to her acting skills.

The tight and sympathetic band, conducted by Bridget Biggar, provided good support to the singers and added atmosphere to the proceedings.  Other than a few vocal audibility issues early on, the sound was well balanced.  Given the strength of vocals among the cast, I was particularly impressed by how well the voices and characters were blended during the ensemble numbers – Everybody’s Got the Right being a standout number.

Overall, this was a very high-quality production of Assassins.  The cast, crew and production team should be very proud.  The programme notes suggested this production …” will make you laugh, shocked and even feel sympathy towards some of the world’s most notorious murderers”.  I fully agree – it did!  And it was deserving of its standing ovation.

John Davies, July 2022

Photography by Tom Daniels, TMD Photography

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