LIZZIE the Musical
Rating: ★★★★
Venue: Southwark Playhouse Elephant, London
Cast: Lauren Drew, Maiya Quansah-Breed, Shekinah McFarlane, Mairi Barclay, Ayesha Patel and Emma Louise Hoey 

Lizzie The Musical explores the life of Lizzie Borden, who was accused of murdering her father and stepmother with an axe in the late summer of 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts. The musical delves into her complex psyche and speculates on the motivations she may have had: loss of inheritance, history of sexual abuse, oppression, and madness. Lizzie, along with her older sister Emma, maid Bridget, and neighbour Alice, bring to life the infamous story supported on stage by an all-female band.

LIZZIE promised to be punk rock and it DELIVERED.

Any true crime connoisseur can attest to the celebrity (or infamy) of the Lizzie Borden case, the gruesome details and the trial that took place after the murders becoming a landmark of the genre. But not even knowing the case can prepare you for the magnificent way in which this UK touring production explores the events that turned Lizzie Borden (not Elizabeth) into an accidental “good for her” icon.

The cast is composed of four women who I can only describe as magnetic, Maiya Quansah-Breed (Alice), Shekinah McFarlane (Emma), Mairi Barclay (Maggie/Bridget) and 2023 WOS Award winner, Lauren Drew, who plays Lizzie, and shines the brightest when delivering the darkest moments of her character’s journey.

Reminiscent of Six, this musical feels closer to a concert, and in it we follow Lizzie’s descent into the pit of her desperation, with numbers exploring the sexual abuse she was subjected to ("This is Not Love"), the loss of her only comfort ("Why Are All These Heads Off?") and the few moments where hope seems to shine through ("Will You Stay?")

Having a comic relief character in Maggie/Bridget seemed a bit grating but Mairi Barclay’s charisma is as undeniable as her vocals are mind blowing (which is saying a lot!). She delivers some of the most iconic pieces of the show, like "House of Borden", but I feel in "Mercury Rising" we see the truly magical quality of her voice and performance come through.

Maiya Quansah-Breed’s performance as Alice brought a drop of sweetness to the ocean of despair, but at times it did feel a bit stilted. Despite that, the spicier moments between her and Lizzie were truly something. Their chemistry combined with the underlying tension (because of all that murder, of course) made for a really effective emotional highlight of the show.

Last and unfortunately seen the least is Emma, played by Shekinah McFarlane, who I wish we could have seen more of. The character of the older sister is absent for a lot of the first act and because of that when she makes her return in act two she gets a bit lost despite having many songs mostly to herself. I don’t know if there was a sound issue, but more often than not I struggled to understand the lyrics she was singing, which was an absolute shame, since her voice was fantastic. She also had some wonderful comedic moments that landed like a treat (What the fuck, Lizzie?, for example)

If I had to pick my favourite numbers of the show I would say it’s a tie between the final number of act one, the breath-taking "Somebody Will Do Something" and the slightly quieter but equally incredible "Shattercane & Velvet Grass".

From the moment you walk into the auditorium, you are there, and the clever soundscape design and lighting keep that illusion alive for the duration of the show, not to mention the costume design which was a whole piece of art in an on itself.

Many shows now seem to rely on projections and audio-visual elements a bit too heavily, but the way Lizzie does it is a masterclass on how to do it and nail it. It added so much to the atmosphere and not once did I feel it was distracting or overkill. Just brilliant.

Lizzie goes to great lengths to set the scene and transport the audience to August of 1892, which is why it was a bit of a disservice to that goal to have lyrics such as “I’m like a pressure cooker” or “there is no A/C”. They didn’t really serve a purpose but they did take me out, just like the use of the hand microphones at seemingly random moments of the show. I am sure there was a reason for it, but as an audience member going in blind, it just came across like a cool little touch to change things up once in a while, which I don’t think was the intention. Other moments where the spell broke come to mind, such as some of the choreography feeling misplaced and diffusing some of the tension built up by the performances.

When you are in the room it feels like blinking is a crime, like you literally can’t take your eyes off of the incredible performers, and that in itself is more than enough reason to run to book your tickets! This show is camp and disturbing and bloody and awesome with a dash of girl power. You shouldn’t root for Lizzie to get away with it, and yet…

You can book tickets to see LIZZIE the Musical at Southwark Playhouse Elephant, here.

Written by Luma

**photo credit to Pamela Raith**

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