Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Crowded Up Close

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Crowded Up Close

Article excerpt

The Menier's intimacy made Assassins another landmark

London's Menier Chocolate Factory has a terrific track record with musical theatre, ranging from the classics Candide and Sweet Charity to more contemporary fare such as The Last Five Years and The Color Purple. But this Fringe venue, converted from a 19th-century chocolate factory and opened in 2004 after lying derelict for many years, has principally risen to international prominence thanks to its critically acclaimed productions of shows by Stephen Sondheim. Both Sunday in the Park with George (2005) and A Little Night Music (2008) transferred to Broadway, winning awards on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2012, veteran Sondheim performer Maria Friedman made her professional directorial debut at the Chocolate Factory with Merrily We Roll Along; its West End transfer was broadcast internationally. Of the Menier's stagings of Sondheim, only Road Show's London premiere (2011) was deprived of life beyond the Fringe, probably more due to the lack of familiarity with the title than because of the quality of the production.

The Chocolate Factory's magical intimacy is such that Sondheim's work seems particularly at home there. His musicals' primacy of text is heightened by the audience's close proximity to the action (the venue seats about 200); the flexibility of the performance space allows each director to tailor the experience to the show's needs. In the case of Sondheim and John Weidman's Assassins (Nov. 21, 2014-March 7, 2015), director Jamie Lloyd placed the audience on opposite sides of the stage, leaving a long, narrow performance space in the middle. The cast moved between and among the audience, amplifying the sense of involvement in the performance and the plot, an ideal approach for a musical that questions our participation in the formation of historical landmarks.

Taking a cue from Lloyd's psychologically raw approach, the set by Soutra Gilmour (who also designed the costumes) was dominated by large neon signs at each extreme of the performance space, indicating "Hit" for each successful assassination and "Miss" for each aborted attempt. Each shot was indicated by the ignition of dozens of light bulbs on the ceiling (Neil Austin designed the production's dramatic lighting), and the provocative nature of the show's message was ideally served by the claustrophobic quality of the space, strengthened by seeing the other half of the audience's reactions so vividly. The opening number's uncomfortable whimsy set the tone for the production as a whole, thanks not least to Simon Lipkin's maniacal portrayal of the Proprietor, but with "Gun Song," the performance truly came alive, with the audience visibly unsettled by the sight of the weapons. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.