BWW Review: LIZZIE, Greenwich Theatre
A rock musical about a suspected Victorian murderess: not your average night at the theatre, by any stretch of the imagination. Enter Lizzie, making its UK premiere at Greenwich Theatre. Tim Maner's book takes the infamous real life case and draws on several of the theories that have been devised over the years to try and explain the (as yet) unsolved crimes.
Lizzie and her older sister Emma live at home with their father and stepmother, but all is not well in the house of Borden. Following years of abuse at the hands of her father, and discovering her stepmother has persuaded him to change his will in her favour, Lizzie snaps. With Emma out of town, she takes matters into her own hands to bloody effect. But will the maid (Bridget, known to the girls as Maggie) and Alice (their neighbour and an admirer of Lizzie) keep the secret? Or will Lizzie do something reckless in order to hide the truth?
The production is semi-staged, relying mostly on the music to tell the story rather than extensive use of props. It's set up as a rock concert, with the live band on either side of the stage, making it a modern interpretation of the balladeers who would write and sell songs about notorious crimes.
All of the cast have radio mics attached, however they barely seem to be used - instead relying on handheld microphones. This approach certainly works as part of the rock concert style, but is ever so slightly distracting during moments of dialogue. It seems more natural in the second act, once the girls have undergone something of a transformation.
Martin Jensen's lighting design is also reminiscent of the live rock arena. At times it is too much, as it blinds the audience on several occasions, but this is countered by some absolutely stunning moments with masterful use of colour. Michael Nøhr's costume design should also be applauded; the girls begin in traditional 1890s style attire, morphing into rock goddesses after the interval.
Lizzie is in terrific hands with a powerhouse quartet of female musical theatre voices. Bleu Woodward (last seen in the Kinky Boots ensemble) brings a naïvety to Alice, as well as a hidden strength when she begins to have her suspicions about Lizzie's actions. Jodie Jacobs is excellent comedy value as Bridget, the maid, and seems more than willing to engage with the audience whenever she possibly can.
Eden Espinosa is unsurprisingly a powerful and charismatic presence as Emma, as well as putting across the character's protectiveness towards her younger sister. In the titular role is Danish actress Bjørg Gamst, who originated Lizzie in the original production. She truly inhabits her character, taking her on an incredible path from innocent and abused girl to strong and confident woman.
It is very refreshing to find a rock musical that really does blow away the cobwebs - Lizzie is unapologetically loud and in-your-face. At times it verges more on teenage angst than grown-up drama. However, for a show that runs for under two hours you certainly get your money's worth. A blast of fresh, but bloody, air.
Picture credit: Soren Malmose