Review - Lizzie - Southwark Playhouse Elephant

Lizzie - Southwark Playhouse, Elephant

Having seen a preview of LIZZIE: The Musical at West End Live back in June, I was intrigued to see how this ‘True Crime Rock Musical’ would come to life in its entirety. Created back in 2009, the show has finally made its way to the UK, thanks to Hope Mill Theatre this year. Currently on at the Southwark Playhouse’s new Elephant venue, this is a show which is well worth checking out.

Whilst not so well known in the UK, the story of Lizzie Borden has become a part of folklore in America with numerous films and plays written about it and even its own children’s rhyme: “Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother 40 whacks.  When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.”  Lizzie and her sister Emma lived with their father Andrew, step-mother Abby and their maid Bridget Sullivan in Fall River, Massachusetts back in 1892. It is believed that Lizzie and her sister suffered abuse in the family home and when Andrew and Abby were murdered in the home with an axe, on August 4th 1892, Lizzie was accused of the crime. She went on trial but was eventually found not guilty. LIZZIE: The Musical, tells us the story of events that led to that night and the aftermath.

From the moment you enter the auditorium the dark lighting, stark set and eerie music set the scene well, but nothing quite prepares you for what you are about to experience. The cast of 4 - Lauren Drew as Lizzie, Maiya Quansah-Breed as her friend and neighbour Alice, Shekinah McFarlane as her sister Emma, and Mairi Barclay as Bridget the maid are sensational vocalists, each one of them equally as powerful as the other. And they need to be, because the rock numbers in the show are unrelenting and demand everything from them. The band of Honor Halford-MacLeod on Keys, Dejeante Hinks on Guitar, Sarah Giles on Bass Guitar and Rebekah Slater on Drums were equally as accomplished. I could have quite happily listened to them play and sing all night and several of the songs including ‘Maybe Someday’, ‘Why Are All These Heads Off?’, ‘This Is Not Love’ and ‘What the F***, Now Lizzie?’ were outstanding.

The show itself is only 100 minutes long and it is a very fast paced production. At times there is hardly a moment to take in one song before you are hit with the next. Throughout the first half you know what is coming, yet the bloody Act 1 finale still makes you gasp even without the victims being actual characters in the show! Unfortunately, the second half, which deals with the aftermath, including Lizzie’s trial, was over in the blink of an eye (or 35 minutes to be precise) and it felt like they could have expanded on this part of the story.

In addition, there were a couple of elements in the production which didn’t quite feel right. The first was the use of both headset and handheld mics (which the actors had in holsters). There didn’t seem to be any logic to when and why they changed between them. It certainly wasn’t because they needed the extra power as their voices were perfectly clear to hear with the headsets. Secondly, whilst I liked Director, Choreographer and Hope Mill Theatre CEO, William Wheltons idea that the costume changes in the show reflected the characters freeing themselves, I didn’t feel the final look, when they emerged as a modern punk/rock girl band quite fitted.

Despite that this was definitely a night of musical theatre I will remember for a long time - LIZZIE: The Musical was fast paced, frantic, gory, and (excuse the pun) ‘bloody brilliant’! If only crime stories had been this exciting when I was at school! 

This show was reviewed on the 3rd November 2023.  Lizzie runs at the Southwark Playhouse Elephant until the 2nd December 2023.  Tickets available here: LIZZIE - Southwark Playhouse

**** stars

Kat Fuller

Join Kat every Tuesday from 9am for 'The Best of Stage and Screen' here on Box Office Radio


Photo credit: Pamela Raith