The words ‘true crime’ and ‘rock musical’ perhaps aren’t something you’d normally expect to see in one sentence, but that’s precisely how Lizzie, currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse Elephant is described and, in all honestly, that’s precisely what Lizzie is. And it works.
Directed by William Whelton and written by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Tim Maner, and Alan Stevens Hewitt, the story is that of Lizzie Borden who, it’s alleged (although there’s no room for interpretation in this telling of the story – here she’s one hundred percent guilty) killed her father and stepmother on the 4th August 1892 in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts. She claimed she was innocent, but the evidence was stacked against her. However, with the help of an expensive legal team and the support of her sister, Emma, maid, Bridget, and friend and lover, Alice, she was found not guilty.
Over the years there have been countless investigations into what really happened that day, but most of them look at the how and not the why. In Lizzie, we get a better understanding of the motives behind the murders (which include abuse), giving us a new spin on an old story.
There is not a moment to breathe during Lizzie, which has a pacey one-hundred-minute runtime. One fantastic tune after another belts out, drums thumping, guitars riffing, and the vocals taking the roof off. This is no ordinary musical; this is a rock concert with a set and some incredible acting, and that’s what sets Lizzie apart in the most extraordinary way.
Lauren Drew is Lizzie herself, and she is an incredible talent, portraying her character as wilful yet afraid, as strong yet crushed, and it’s a treat to watch. Shekinah McFarlane is Emma, the voice of reason, the older sister who condones Lizzie’s actions but keeps her distance. Her standout song, titled “What the F**k Now, Lizzie?” essentially puts Emma on the edge of a breakdown, and it’s a much-needed (almost) comic moment after the all-out gorefest we’ve just witnessed.
Maiya Quansah-Breed is Alice, Lizzie’s lover, a calming influence until Lizzie’s father goes one step too far and all hell breaks loose. The pair’s duets are beautiful and touching, giving a human side to real people most of the audience will only have heard about in documentaries before. Mairi Barclays completes the quartet, playing Bridget the maid. She’s the comic relief, and her sass and winks to the audience make us feel as though we’re the women’s confidant just as much as she is. Bridget knows everything that goes on in that house, but she’s far too savvy to say anything outright.
Everything about Lizzie was a dream, from the vocals to the acting to the simple yet effective set, the concert-style lighting, and, of course, the story itself. If I had one gripe it would be that the interval probably wasn’t needed. Just keep going and I don’t think any of the audience would mind in the least.
If you love true crime, strong women, rock and roll, musicals, love stories, and comedy, you’ll love Lizzie. How could you not? It’s a whacking good time.