Tag Archives: Lizzie




Southwark Playhouse Elephant

LIZZIE at Southwark Playhouse Elephant



“The score pulses like blood from a severed major artery”

As we wander into the dimly lit auditorium, there is a music box centre stage bathed in sepulchral light. It chimes like a nursery rhyme, but the tone has an ominous quality. This shadow of unease is darkened by the slowly rotating axe that replaces the ballet dancer that would normally ornament the music box. We feel that something is not quite right.

“Lizzie” – billed as a True Crime Rock Musical – tells the story of Lizzie Borden; a complex character who was accused of murdering her father and stepmother with an axe in the late summer of 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts. Written by Tim Maner, Steven Cheslik-deMeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt, it bursts onto the stage with the force of a recklessly wielded hatchet. The score pulses like blood from a severed major artery. It is exciting and powerful. Yet we know that something is not quite right.

The problem lies in the source material. Lizzie Borden passed into American folklore via the widespread publicity her trial received. Inevitably this gives rise to speculation, half-truths and fabrication but the plain fact is that Borden was acquitted. The police investigation was a shambles and criticised for its lack of diligence, and Borden’s testimonies were suspect to say the least. Contradictory answers to questioning, changing alibis and dubious statements all failed to bring a conviction. Although a free woman, she still lived with the burden of being the prime suspect of a murder that was never solved.

“This is definitely quirky and sassy, and it will get the blood flowing freely”

William Whelton’s production, however, leaves us in no doubt. Lizzie Borden comes across as a pretty cold-blooded murderer. There are attempts to get the audience on her side, but we are left just as cold. Alleged sexual and emotional abuse are revealed. Oppression and fear are used in mitigation, yet we still never root for her. Lauren Drew handles the material exceedingly well, giving as much of a human face as possible to a soul-less and manipulative personality. And the frequent doses of comedy help the bitter taste go down. She is aided and abetted throughout by her sister Emma (played with gusto by Shekinah McFarlane), and by her winking, all-knowing maid, Bridget (Mairi Barclay). Maiya Quansah-Breed completes the quartet as Lizzie’s friend, lover, ally and accuser. A complex journey simultaneously driven and hindered by a romantic sub plot.

Yet the show manages to rise above its drawbacks on the strength of its bombast and spectacularity. Almost sung through, “Lizzie” is in effect a concept album thrust onto the stage. More Prog Rock than the Punk it advertises, it therefore has a richness buried deep into the hardcore backing. All four performers complement this with stunning vocals and electrifying commitment. Rachel Tansey’s costume places the cast in a nineteenth century New England backwater, which jars, until they regenerate into the modern rock chick look that the music dictates. Andrew Exeter’s lighting is impressive, mixing intimate, Gothic hues with epic stadium rock-concert flourishes. There is plenty to applaud, and the audience are certainly on their feet doing that in abundance.

Yet we are ultimately brought back to the nagging sensation that something is not quite right. The message is perturbing. The girl power mantel doesn’t sit well on a story that is angled to let a murderess walk away scot-free. The attempts at comedy don’t always sit comfortably either. We come away not sure how we are supposed to feel. But at least we feel something. Our heartbeats have been raised quite a few beats per minute. This is definitely quirky and sassy, and it will get the blood flowing freely. Not as freely, thankfully, as Lizzie Borden’s victims.

LIZZIE at Southwark Playhouse Elephant

Reviewed on 1st November 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith






Previously reviewed at Southwark Playhouse venues:


Manic Street Creature | ★★★★ | October 2023
The Changeling | ★★★½ | October 2023
Ride | ★★★ | July 2023
How To Succeed In Business … | ★★★★★ | May 2023
Strike! | ★★★★★ | April 2023
The Tragedy Of Macbeth | ★★★★ | March 2023
Smoke | ★★ | February 2023
The Walworth Farce | ★★★ | February 2023
Hamlet | ★★★ | January 2023
Who’s Holiday! | ★★★ | December 2022
Doctor Faustus | ★★★★★ | September 2022
The Prince | ★★★ | September 2022



Click here to read all our latest reviews




Greenwich Theatre



Greenwich Theatre

Opening Night – 24th February 2017


“There’s blood, there’s gore and a mighty rock gig score”

So you thought ‘Bat out of Hell, the Musical’ would be your only chance to experience a top notch rock musical this year? Well think again, Lizzie’s in town!

Based around true events of the late 19th century, Lizzie tells the grim story of the Bordens, a well off Massachusetts family comprising Lizzie (Bjorg Gamst), her older sister Emma (Eden Espinosa), their father and stepmother.

The girls’ mother had died when Lizzie was small, but Emma (who was nine years older), remembered her well and despised the stepmother. When she starts to have more and more influence on their father, the girls become deeply concerned about this wretched woman’s impact on their lives. Deadly consequences would follow.

The musical doesn’t directly feature the parents (they ‘sort of’ appear but it would be a spoiler if I said more), instead it focuses on the two sisters, Alice Russell (their neighbour and close friend of Lizzie) and the family’s maid, Bridget Sullivan (Jodie Jacobs).

It’s a dark tale exploring not only the fateful events of summer 1892, but looking at the type of man their father really was and examining the kind of relationships Lizzie was having with her friend Alice (Bleu Woodward) and those around her.

There is a strong rock score throughout which may not at first appeal to lovers of more traditional musicals. Don’t be put off though, there are clever lyrics and the vocal performances of all four of the cast are electric. The songs themselves are all quite rocky in structure but range from ballad to all out headbangers. You’ll be a rock fan before you know it.

Simply staged (which works really well for this style of musical), with some rear projections and a few props. One of the best technical parts of the evening is the lighting (Martin Jensen), which is part rock concert part musical theatre and part awesome! Costume design is also excellent ranging from plain period smocks to sultry leather vixen outfits.

Lizzie is one of those rare productions where you cannot find a single member of the cast you’d describe as outstanding. That’s because in Lizzie they all are, as are the members of the accompanying band (unusually for the theatre they all got to join the curtain call which was a nice touch). 

Lizzie was a smash hit last year at the Fredericia Teater, Denmark and it looks like being the same again in Greenwich. 


Production Photography by Søren Malmose


Fredericia Teater

in association with

Aria Entertainment

present the UK premiere of


Lizzie is at the Greenwich Theatre until

Sunday 12th March



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