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LIZZIE | Hope Mill Theatre | 03/09/2023

Blending real crime, conspiracy and a thumping rock score, ‘LIZZIE The Musical’ is wielding her axe at Hope Mill Theatre ahead of a UK tour. Famously acquitted of her father and stepmother’s murders, conspiracies exist to this day pointing the finger at Lizzie Borden. Never afraid to take risks, Hope Mill have staged the first UK created version of this punk rock musical.

From the moment you step into the Hope Mills ever adaptable space, you feel the oppression and almost claustrophobia these four women would have felt. The distressed wooden barn aesthetic works perfectly in juxtaposition with the use of dynamic lighting. Andrew Exeter’s stage and lighting design is exemplary, effortlessly transporting us to 19th century Fall River, Massachusetts. Additional projections work well to help support the storytelling alongside Rachel Tansey’s wonderful period costume design.

Leading the company is the incomparable Lauren Drew, who gives one of the performances of the year as Lizzie. Not only do we completely feel her initial vulnerability, we feel her every emotion through her electrifying multi-layered performance. With her powerful vocals amongst the best I have ever heard on stage, Drew is worth the ticket price alone!

She is supported wonderfully by the three other actresses. Maiya Quansah-Breed once again shone on the Hope Mill stage, this time as neighbour Alice. Her angelic vocals on ‘If You Knew’ were a solid highlight of the evening.

Mairi Barclay breathed humour into this dark tale as Bridget the maid. With facial expressions alone, she had the audiences in stitches, and in the palm of her hand throughout. ‘LIZZIE The Musical’ handles hard hitting themes and issues with sensitivity and respect, without ever trivialising them at any point. Doing this without turning darker subject matter into parody isn’t easily achieved, but director William Whelton has skilfully succeeded.

Shekinah McFarlane completes the company as Emma Borden and was made to sing a rock score. Her powerhouse vocals were effortless and added intensity to the performance. Having seen her rip up the stage in Six, I was in no doubt that she had had the credentials. She however blew any already high expectations out of the water from the moment she took to the stage.

‘LIZZIE’ sets the benchmark for all rock scores to aspire to. It is brought to life by a talented band of four that could fill a stadium with their electric performance. It is hard to believe that every sound on that stage has come from 4 musicians and 4 actresses alone. The haunting interpretation of the famous ‘Fourty Whacks’ nursery rhyme which opens the show is weaved through the score to great effect. Some of the most memorable moments are when the cast have the opportunity to sing together. The harmonies are ‘Burn The Old Thing Up’ are exquisite, and the show closer ‘Into Your Wildest Dreams’ is enough to make your face hurt from smiling.

Whilst the music and performances are exemplary, the book could benefit from greater insight into characters motivations and back stories. However, this slight gripe isn’t enough to detract from what is a truly exceptional production. LIZZIE is energetic, loud and completely compelling. This is something truly special and is destined for big things, you heard it here first! With perhaps the most vocally strong cast I have ever seen, I am already planning a return visit.

LIZZIE is on at Hope Mill Theatre until 30 September 2023, before going on a UK tour. Click below for booking info:

Photo Credit: Pamela Raith

Note: My ticket was gifted. Irrespective of whether a show is gifted or bought, I always ensure that my reviews are fair and based on my honest opinion alone.


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