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Stephen Sondheim musical about US presidential assassinations goes off with a bang

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»The history of attempts to kill US presidents isn’t exactly a subject that screams out to be made into a musical.

But with his 1990 show Assassins, now revived at the Pleasance, Sweeney Todd composer Stephen Sondheim did just that, somehow conjuring comedy from this unlikely theme.

It begins by introducing the would-be assassins – four who got their targets and five who failed – in a darkly funny first number, Everybody’s Got the Right. One-by-one they emerge before a charismatic gun-seller, who convinces them that killing a president will solve all their problems - even stomach cramps.

The show examines what drove each of this group of misfits. Occasionally the tone reflects the serious subject, as when it focuses on put-upon factory worker Leon Czolgosz, who killed William McKinley, but on the whole it is played for laughs.

Most of the characters are nutty buffoons, the loopiest of all being Charles Guiteau - hilariously played by Brandon Force - who thinks he will be made French ambassador and takes aim at James Garfield when he isn’t.

The comedy helps strip away the weight of their historical significance to present them as simply confused and disturbed people - and there is probably truth in that.

The cast, from a troupe dedicated to Sondheim’s works, 2nd Company, put in strong performances throughout to ensure this funny and thought-provoking production goes off with a bang.

* Assassins was at the Pleasance in Carpenters Mews, N7

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