IN the week when a federal judge has granted the release of Ronald Reagan's would-be assassin, John Hinckley Jr, quite by chance Pick Me Up Theatre are staging Assassins, the Stephen Sondheim musical about all the American presidential assassinations, the successes and the failures, Hinckley et al.

The hit 1990 show with music, lyrics and dark humour by Sondheim and a sharp, waspish book by John Weidman was last staged in York by the late Clive Hailstone's Rowntree Musical Theatre in 2002, when Robert Readman played Charles Guiteau, James Garfield's assassin.

Readman now directs his favourite musical in an almost unrecognisable 41 Monkgate, where Readman has converted the John Cooper Studio Theatre from a black box into an old-fashioned barn convention in a southern state, the kind that President Abraham Lincoln might have addressed, albeit here lit up like a fairground to chime with the opening scene at a carnival shooting gallery.

The stage floor has been taken over by a large wooden thrust structure with seating on three sides: sofas and chairs on the ground level and gallery seating to the sides that will likely stay in place and maybe even be expanded, Readman has suggested. Good. The view from there was fantastic.

York Press:

Simon Radford, as John Wilkes Booth, and Sam Hird, as The Balladeer, in Assassins

Readman and his team have been busy with the paint brush too, doing up the second stairway and its big windows to provide a new entry, with an ice cream station and repositioned box office: a pick-me-up for the home of the Upstage Centre Theatre under the chairmanship of Jim Welsman.

Apart from all that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play? Very much, thank you. Pick Me Up Theatre are not only remarkably prolific but their work is consistently outstanding, and Assassins is right up their with their best, from casting, direction and design by Readman and Barbara Chan's band, up high at the back, to the superb lighting of Adam Moore and Ian Thomson's pin-sharp sound.

York's musical theatre talent in 2016 has an abundant choice of productions, and you will find the young cream rising at Pick Me Up, with more established York notables, such as Craig Kirby, Juliet Waters and Alexa Chaplin, coming on board too.

York Press:

Double trouble: Alexa Chaplin as Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and Juliet Waters as Sara Jane Moore

Those three are in great form here, Kirby raging in his grubby Santa Claus outfit as Samuel Byck flunks bumping off Richard Nixon; Chaplin's drug-addled Charlie Manson groupie, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, and Waters' accident-prone Sara Jane Moore both failing to bump off Gerald Ford in a calamitous double act.

Sam Hird, wielding a banjo rather than a gun, is a stern Balladeer, singing, "Angry men don't write the rules and guns don't write the wrongs": a message for today surely.

It is a message ignored here by the Assassins, however, who tell their story through their eyes, from Simon Radford's righteous John Wilkes Booth, to Conor Mellor's Italian with a rotten stomach, Giuseppe Zangara; George Stagnell's resentful Polish outsider Leon Czolgosz to Jonny Holbek's crazed Hinckley and Hird's suicidal Lee Harvey Oswald at the finale.

Best of all is Mark Hird's manic Charles Guiteau, with something of a Rowan Atkinson comedic style about him.

If this hotshot show is not in the running for a gong at the inaugural York Culture Awards, there ain't no justice.

Assassins, Pick Me Up Theatre, John Cooper Studio Theatre, 41Monkgate, York; 7.30pm, tonight and tomorrow; 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office: