Tag Archives: William Whelton




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




Theatre Royal Brighton & UK Tour



Theatre Royal Brighton

Reviewed – 8th July 2019



“each song and dance number is filled with unfathomable skill”


Sex, drugs, sex, psychedelic tabs, more sex and a rather peculiar UV Scene. Hair bounces into Brighton as part of its 50th anniversary tour.

Picture this, itʼs 1967 and a group of hippie youngsters are longing to change the world in which they find themselves. They question every aspect of authority and unite through protest and song, under the gloomy shadow of the Vietnam War.

The story of Hair jumps so sporadically from one character and story to another which confuses, leaving us little to no time to really form an emotional connection with each character and the threadbare storyline.

The cast is laden with TV celebrities. X-Factor Duo Jake Quickenden (modelling a rather revealing thong throughout) and Marcus Collins (as Hud) are both interesting talents. Both do well throughout but are underserved by the script and direction from Jonathan O’Boyle. Quickendenʼs energetic conversations with the audience are infectious and makes his Berger completely loveable; someone youʼd take home to your mum.

Vocally, Aiesha Pease, playing Dionne, and Daisy Wood-Davis, as Shelia, are simply stunning, both commanding the stage with pitch-perfect clarity. However beautiful harmonies and exceptional examples of physical theatre canʼt forgive the poor diction from most of the cast throughout the sub-par plot.

I have one big gripe about this production as a whole and thatʼs how it fairs in the current political climate. Although Hair tries all the tricks to appeal to our packed to the rafters Brighton audience but the lack of ‘shockingʼ content merely makes it a well-produced museum piece. With the director’s choice of implementing Trump speeches at the beginning, the show manages to say nothing new whilst remaining some-what relevant but this is cheap and easy. If you had put Erdogan or Putin speeches in place of Trump, or performed the show in Russia or Brunei for example, where homosexuality and nudity on stage is still illegal, then the impact would be colossal.

Putting the incoherent story aside, Hair, put simply, is a spectacle and an event. Once intended to shock and change laws, Hair unintentionally falls flat in its flamboyant charm. Although each song and dance number is filled with unfathomable skill, energy and wit the seemingly endless number of songs forces us to yearn for more of the thin narrative.


Reviewed by Nathan Collins

Photography by Johan Persson


Hair the Musical


Theatre Royal Brighton until 13th July then UK tour continues


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Rocky Horror Show | ★★★★ | December 2018
Benidorm Live! | ★★★★ | February 2019
Noughts And Crosses | ★★ | March 2019
Rotterdam | ★★★★ | April 2019
The Girl on the Train | ★★ | June 2019


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com