Review: Lizzie

Written by on September 3, 2023

Review: Lizzie

03-09-23 Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester by Jamie Griffiths

We’ve played Lizzie, the “true crime rock musical” about Lizzie Borden, for many years on Matinee. Few shows can claim to be a staple of our rock, Pride and Halloween playlists but this one most certainly can. It meant that this fresh new production, the first ever to be built and toured in the UK has a lot to live up to. To say it surpassed expectations is an understatement. There are plenty of rock musicals out there, but remove the jukebox ones and you’re left with a very niche group of some of the most diverse and creative shows. Director and Choreographer William Whelton has recognised the potential of Lizzie, and it had been realised in the most inventive and breathtaking way.

The Company of Lizzie. Pic: Pamela Raith Photography

Lauren Drew’s performance of Lizzie is a tour de force, with some breath-taking vocals that are as at home in the tender ballads as they are in the louder rockier moments. And the exceptional musical direction IS loud, but Lauren’s performance is never lost in the mix. Her motives, her fears and her determination are all conveyed with passion.

Shekinah Mcfarlane as Emma. Pic: Pamela Raith Photography

The melodies in this production are incredibly important, shifting effectively with the tine of the scenes, and they are delivered in tight, powerful harmonies by all four singers.  Lizzie’s sister Emma played by Shekinah Mcfarlane has an incredible range and her staunch support for her younger sister delivers some of the most soulful moments of the story.

Mairi Barclay as Bridget. Pic: Pamela Raith Photography

Mairi Barclay’s entertaining performance as Bridget brings some welcome light relief, without going to far into slapstick or parody. Her contribution leaves the audience questioning just how much of the proceedings could possibly be orchestrated by her in the background, and her staunch support of Lizzie adds further suspicion.

Lauren Drew as Lizzie and Maiya Quansah-Breed as Alice. Pic: Pamela Raith Photography

When Lizzie has tender moments with her best friend Alice, played by Maiya Quansah-Breed, you’re willing the two of them to have a happy ending together. Their chemistry on stage is electric, which only adds to the frustration as events slide out of control and drive wedges between the would-be couple.


Hope Mill is one of those intimate theatre spaces that regularly treats audiences to shows of such scale it betrays the compact size of the space. From the opening number Forty Whacks we are convincingly transported to Fall River, Massachusetts in the early 1890’s and the stage is set by our four female protagonists. William Exeter’s staging is particularly effective with only the smallest of changes required for us to be either indoors or outdoors -v we are effortlessly transported into a barn full of pigeons or a blood-soaked crime scene!

The Company of Lizzie The Musical _ Pamela Raith Photography

With it’s all female cast, powerful anthems and historical themes the comparisons to SIX are going to come thick and fast over the coming months, and it’s certainly a compliment, but this musical ploughs a much darker furrow and, having been around since 2009 it really is doing it’s own thing. The epic ending delivers a heart stopping moment with truly beautiful staging as the verdict is delivered, after which the whole production shifts gear and we’re taken to a whole other time to appreciate this crazy, bloody tale of four women. Hope Mill has delivered another great first for the UK.

The Company of Lizzie. Pic: Pamela Raith Photography



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