Assassins(1991) by composer/deviser Stephen Sondheim and librettist/script-writer John Weidman had a rocky production history. It offers a blacker-than-black indictment of US gun culture, the media, and the American Dream. After the success of the 2004 London revival, Assassinshas been doing the rounds and Hayes Theatre staged an innovative, garish version in Sydney in 2017and 2018.

L-r: Geoff Kelso, Cameron Steens, Luke Hewitt, Brendan Hanson, Will O’Mahony, Caitlin Beresford-Ord. Photo © Philip Gostelow

Roger Hodgman directs the Black Swan State Theatre Company version. Formerly director of the Melbourne Theatre Company, Hodgman has a deserved reputation for solid work. Black Swan’s cast is hugely successful, staging a piece that is musically engaging, dramaturgically and politically complex, and a real joy to attend.

That said, Hodgman’s version lacks innovation. I have used video of the 2004 production for teaching, and Hodgman does not depart significantly from it. For Perth audiences, this is hardly an issue. Nevertheless, it does mean there is not really anything new brought out here—while the Sydney version did at least offer an enthusiastically postmodern and carnivalesque take on the piece.

Even so, this study of violent losers from the...