Lizzie The Musical

“A Bloody Triumph”

Lizzie has swung her axe in over 100 productions, in 10 countries, across 4 continents, in 6 languages and now takes a big swing into Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre.

Penned as a true crime rock musical, this show hits the brief and then some.

The plot takes us into the minds of Lizzie Borden, her sister Emma, neighbour Alice and maid Bridget, during the time leading up to and following the brutal murder of Mr & Mrs Borden in 1892. Although this case turned out to be a cause célèbre, we will never know what truly happened behind the walls of the Borden household, however, through a variety of sources and speculation, Lizzie the musical is born. Opening with the juxtaposing ’40 whacks’, this beast is certainly no children’s nursery rhyme.

Where do I start with this phenomenal cast? 

In the titular role we have Lauren Drew. Playing the role of a real-life character (especially one who is largely based on speculation and legend) is no easy take, but Drew makes it look effortless. Through her varied emotions, her portrayal of Lizzie seamlessly switches from victim to vindictive through the slightest change of facial expression. Her powerhouse vocals frequently pinned the audience to the back of their seats, especially when she hits those high register notes that are becoming synonymous with her performances.

This show is very much a team effort with every role bringing something different to the party. Playing Lizzie’s older sister, Emma, is Shekinah McFarlane who brings a raw edge to the character and is a real stand out during the cast’s beautifully blended harmonies, especially when she effortlessly melts into her lower register. 

Maiya Quansah-Breed takes on the character of Alice in a role that softens the production, particularly during the heavy themes depicted and allows the plot to stay grounded when everything around her is spiralling into anarchy.

Finally, Mairi Barclay plays Bridget – sometimes known as Maggie – the maid to the Borden household. Mairi has fantastic comic timing and with merely a look, lets the audience into her character’s way of thinking. 

Other productions should take note from the set and lighting designer, Andrew Exeter. Through his use of varied colours of flood lighting and spotlights shining through the wooden set, the audience is instantly shifted to not only different locations but is completely immersed in the tone of the scene- a standout example following the final number where we are transported to a rock concert! (You had to be there, but it worked so well!)

Where other shows have failed in their use of projection mapping, video designer Dan Light’s creativity is paired beautifully with Andrew’s lighting.

The choreography (also by William Whelton) was slick and brought a modern edge to the story, though if I was being nitpicky, I’d love to see the ‘fanography’ (if it isn’t a word, it should be) tightened up to be as slick as the rest of the show. 

Lizzie is a bloody triumph and this production is destined to go far.  I look forward to having another whack at this show as it continues to swing its axe across the UK through the end of 2023.

This show was reviewed on the 3rd September 2023.  Lizzie The Musical plays at the Hope Mill Theatre until the 30th September 2023.  Tickets available here: LIZZIE The Musical – Hope Mill Theatre

Review written by Lee Gregory

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Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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