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Lizzie | Hope Mill Theatre

We all know the famous children’s rhyme about Lizzie Borden, right? But none of us actually know the truth of whether she did brutally murder her father and stepmother back in the 1800s. All we know is that after standing on trial, Lizzie was acquitted of her charges and was set free. Lizzie Borden has become one of the most notorious individuals in American criminal history and it’s easy to see why people are so invested with her story.

Lizzie: A True Crime Punk Rock Musical gives a gritty and explosive recount of the time leading up to and following the murder of Mr and Mrs Borden. We follow Lizzie, her maid (Bridget), her sister (Emma) and friend/lover (Alice) as we are catapulted right back into a world of speculation, scandal, and rumours, whilst also exploring the complicated psyche of Lizzie Borden and the motives she may have had.

Hope Mill Theatre transforms into the House of Borden for the first UK built version of the show, which will then lead to its first ever UK tour. With the direction and choreography of Hope Mill Theatre’s very own, William Whelton, this production is raw, aggressive and doesn’t hold back. Whelton has perfectly intertwined modern choreography with incredible vocals to give a punk rock concert vibe that brings a new edge to musical theatre, and it is refreshing to see.

Hope Mill have once again proved their incredible ability to transform their cosy theatre space to bring a production to life. With set design under the faithful hands of Andrew Exeter, the staging is designed to feel like a claustrophobic barn, perfectly encapsulating how trapped Lizzie felt in her family home. Furthermore, Dan Light’s video design, which is projected onto the barn, brings the story to life and transports us to different locations. Exeter’s lighting through the barn panels and the neon strobe lighting that is completely in your face really sets the scene of this piece of theatre. It quite frankly seems offensive, but completely compliments the tone of this theatre piece.

Whilst ‘Lizzie’ is advertised as a musical, it very much feels more like a song cycle. Whilst I can appreciate and enjoy a song cycle, I personally feel that a musical based on the history of one of the most complex criminal cases in American history deserves a deeper plot where character arcs can be explored. In particular, it would have been interesting to see the development between Lizzie’s relationship with Alice, and what led to Alice turning her back on Lizzie. I did appreciate the spoken words between songs, in particular, the quotes from Lizzie’s trial and would have loved to have seen these explored further.

The songs written by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Tim Maner and Alan Stevens Hewitt are incredibly powerful and impactful in telling Lizzie’s story, but I felt that a couple of them felt more like gap fillers and did not aid the story in any way. However, that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy listening to them regardless, due to the incredible vocals of the four-piece cast. This is also supported by the incredible musical direction from Katy Richardson and the all-female band who give their energy throughout, with songs that are loud and completely head banging worthy.

With an all-female cast and band, this production feels incredibly empowering. Lauren Drew who portrays our titular character, Lizzie, has an incredible power of dominating the stage. Her vocals are jaw droppingly good, and she completely makes her character believable from the emotion that she puts into her vocals. It was honestly quite scary to watch Drew transform from the timid, scared victim, into an incredibly vindictive and callous individual. Maiya Quansah-Breed compliments the cast with a more gentle and light approach, which brings a calm to the chaos. Maiya’s vocals are simply divine and I could never bore of listening to her sing.

Mairi Barclay is hilarious as the maid Bridget, with comedic timing that brings light-hearted moments to the otherwise completely dark piece of theatre. One of my favourite directions from this piece is where Mairi uses the microphone to play devil’s advocate within the plot. Shekinah McFarlane who plays older sister, Emma, brings a completely raw edge to her performance as she also struggles with the constraints of living in the Borden Household. Shekinah’s lower vocals in the group harmonies are incredibly impactful.

With a small running time of one hour and forty minutes, Lizzie is a gripping, powerhouse production that’s not afraid to get a little gruesome and dark. Lizzie runs at Hope Mill Theatre until the 30th September. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review


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