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16th August 2023

Lizzie launches at Hope Mill with music, murder and Maiya Quansah-Breed

Hope Mill Theatre held a launch event for the first UK-built production of Lizzie, a “true crime punk rock musical” based on the life of American axe murderer Lizzie Borden
Lizzie launches at Hope Mill with music, murder and Maiya Quansah-Breed
Emma Louise Hoey, Mairi Barclay, Shekinah McFarlane, Lauren Drew, Maiya Quansah-Breed and Ayesha Patel. Photo: Jay Darcy @ The Mancunion

Lizzie the musical premiered in the US and received its UK premiere in London a few years back with the Danish production. This new production is not only the UK regional premiere but also the first UK-built production of the musical – and it will be followed by its first ever UK tour.

Lizzie is not based on either Queen Elizabeth, as actress Shekinah McFarlane (Emma) told me some people presume! Rather, it is based on Lizzie Borden, an American woman who was tried and acquitted of the 1892 axe murders of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts. No one else was charged with the murders. Borden spent the remainder of her life in Fall River, ostracised from other residents.

Lizzie Borden is not quite as iconic here in the UK as she is in her native US but some of you might recognise her name from the haunting nursery rhyme (a lot of nursery rhymes are dark but this one has most beat).

I have been fascinated by the Borden case for around a decade, since I came across the Lifetime film and television series, both of which starred Gothic Queen Christina Ricci (though I haven’t actually seen either).

Whilst I live and breathe musical theatre, I had no idea that there was a musical based on Borden’s life. Few people seem to – it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page!

Lead actors Lauren Drew (Lizzie Borden) and Maiya Quansah-Breed (Alice), both of whom starred in Six, told me that they believe the musical was ahead of its time and so people weren’t quite ready for it. But Maiya thinks that audiences will welcome it in a post-Six era.

Six, another historical musical (based on the six wives of Henry VIII), was radically different at the time; it has taken the world by storm. The success of Six has led to countless thematically similar musicals (e.g. girl power) and other gig-like musicals so audiences are no doubt now ready for Lizzie, at long last.

After only a week of rehearsals, Hope Mill Theatre held a lovely little launch for press to catch a glimpse of the “true crime punk rock musical”.

We were welcomed by Hope Mill’s Artistic Director Joseph Houston, who then passed us on to William Whelton, Hope Mill’s Executive Director – and his husband! (The boys have showed us that working with your partner is possible when you love your work as much as each other).

William offered a little information about the show and introduced us to the all-female cast.

As aforementioned, the title character will be played by Lauren Drew, who recently won a WhatsOnStage Award for Regent Park’s Open Air Theatre‘s acclaimed revival of Legally Blonde. She starred in the original UK (West End) cast of Heathers but is probably best-known for leading the second and third UK tours of Six. Some might recognise her from The Voice UK.

Maiya Quansah-Breed, who was nominated for an Olivier Award for starring in the original cast of Six, will play Alice, Lizzie’s neighbour, who she becomes quite close to. This is Maiya’s third show at Hope Mill, previously starring in their production of Rent and later the external production of Head Over Heels, which had its European and UK premiere at the venue. She is set to play a young Princess Diana in the international premiere of Diana, which is being staged in concert form in London.

Shekinah McFarlane, who starred alongside Lauren in the second and third Six tours after starring in the original West End production, plays Lizzie’s sister, Emma. She starred in the original UK cast of Seussical. She previously performed at Hope Mill in their first musical, Parade, and later in Hair. Like Lauren, she competed on The Voice UK.

Rounding off the lead cast is Mairi Barclay, who starred in the German premiere of Young Frankenstein and recently starred in Mother Goose. She previously performed at Hope Mill in Pippin.

Emma Louise Hoey will be Cover Lizzie and Alice. She previously performed at Hope Mill in their immersive club musical, Club Mex. Ayesha Patel will be Cover Bridget and Emma. She starred in the most recent production of Broken Wings.

The cast treated us to a few performances, beginning with the opening number, ‘The House of Borden’. We also got divine solos from Lauren and Maiya and a sparkling duet between Lauren and Shekinah.

As the cast had only been rehearsing for a week, they had not yet tackled Act 2, though they had learned the songs so we got to hear some act two numbers, including the beautiful closing number, ‘Into Your Wildest Dreams’. The covers joined the core cast for the last two numbers; it was great to see them shine.

After the exclusive press preview, we had the opportunity to speak to some of the cast and creatives. I opted for Maiya, one of my favourite musical theatre stars. She was my favourite member of Six but, tragically, she was off when I caught the show; laryngitis forced her to miss most of the Manchester run. I then planned to see her in Rent but the show sold out. Earlier this year, I finally caught her onstage, in the EU/UK premiere of Head Over Heels – third time lucky! I can’t wait to see her again in Lizzie.

Keep an eye out for the interview.

Lizzie runs at Hope Mill Theatre from September 1 to 30 and tours the UK until December 16.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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