Hope Theatre, London – until 11 August 2018
The story of Lizzie Borden is one that has proved endlessly fascinating for many people and has inspired many a work of art, with rock musicals, TV series and Hollywood films appearing this decade alone. Out of the Forest Theatre’s contribution to the genre comes in the form of Bury the Hatchet, self-described as a “true crime podcast meets bluegrass musical” and all sorts of fun with it.
Tried but acquitted of the murder of her father and stepmother in rural Massachusetts in 1892, Lizzie’s destiny of apparently immortal infamy was set. And over the hour or so here, it is as much this that writer Sasha Wilson focuses on than the details of the case itself. So we re-examine the evidence that remains and speculate about possible motives, but we also probe into society’s fascination with uplifting notorious (alleged) criminals and with the genre of crime itself.
It needs this dual focus as [spoiler alert], there’s no dramatic new piece of evidence here that breaks open the case anew and so the intent might feel a little murky at times. There’s much more in the meta-nature of the musical as the three-strong company flit in and out of the narrative to debate how advanced forensic science was at the time, or to bitch about not being able to sing harmony, cheekily but intelligently exploring the way that we tell stories and particularly, how we construct a tale of bloody murder.
Wilson, Joseph Prowen and David Leopold are beautifully in tune with each other as they whip through any number of supporting characters to deliver the story with a real warmth, and a nicely flirty eye for the audience. And woven throughout the show is a score of classic Americana – bluegrass, Appalachian murder ballads, gospel, blues, played with energy and skill and sung beautifully, just listen to those close a cappella harmonies in ‘Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby’.