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Grief and fluff: Tiger @OmnibusTheatre

Death is something we all will face. After all, nobody gets out of here alive. But how do you get past it when grief is all you can feel? And this is the premise of Tiger, currently playing at Omnibus Theatre . It's a fascinating exploration of the stages of grief. And with a terrific cast to take you on this journey, it's an endearing and sweet story that has you engaged from the start, wondering what will happen next.  We are introduced to Alice (Poppy Allen-Quarmby) as she gives a stand-up routine. It's not particularly funny and starts to veer into the topic of dying. Something isn't right. She used to be good at this but can't move forward. Soon, she is back in her London apartment with her partner Oli (Luke Nunn), discussing that they need to get a lodger to make ends meet.  Oli is a doctor working night shifts at the local NHS hospital. Alice is not ready to face a return to stand up or anything. So when the first potential lodger arrives (Meg Lewis), looking

Axes to grind: Lizzie @Swkplay

Production photo

Arriving at the Southwark Playhouse Elephant, there are plenty of pigeons (real and otherwise) inside and outside the theatre.  Having not been there since it opened at the start of the year, I figured it was an art installation.  Little did I know that it was a crucial part of Lizzie, the hard rock, full-throated true crime rock musical.  Pigeons are solace from a stifling, oppressive life for an unmarried woman in 1890s Massachusetts.  And that is probably all the subtlety you'll get in this high-energy production.  It originated at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester and now makes a lot of noise in the Southwark Playhouse's basement venue. 

Based on the trial of the century in 1890s Massachusetts, Lizzie Borden was acquitted of murdering her stepmother and father with an axe.  Over time, everyone believed she had done it.  There's even a nursery rhyme about her.  This piece is less interested in the whodunnit and more in the whyshedunnit.  Set to a driving rock score.  

Production photo

Maybe it was the risk of being destitute and cut out of the will when their stepmother was due to inherit everything in the event of their father, Andrew Borden, passing.  Maybe it was the ambiguous lesbian relationship between her neighbour Alice Russell.  Perhaps it was the controlling and abusive relationship her father had with her.  All is explored here with a light touch and hard-core rock score.  But we are left without a doubt that Lizzie, her older sister Emma, Alice and their housekeeper conspired to do him in and keep her out of jail.

The musical by Steven Cheslik-Demeter, Tim Maner and Alan Stevens Hewitt first premiered in 1990 and feels born in the era of experimental rock musicals.  Almost sung through, you don't have time to ponder whether it would be best described as a song cycle or in the tradition of other shows such as Spring Awakening or Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  It just moves through the story at breakneck speed, even when the songs should feel as if they are slowing down the action.  Last seen in London in 2017, but in the intimate space of the Southwark Playhouse Elephant venue, it feels intense.  Loud and intense.  The cast dance and gyrate with their headsets on and then switch to handheld microphones.  Projections abound, and the lights flash.  It's over the top and hard to resist as it builds a compelling case of women trapped in a world that seems to have no use for them.  

Production photo

By the time the murders come, it is such a cathartic release and depicted with such panache you're on her side.  Music, performance and staging conspire to make a high (and bloody) point for the show.

In the title role, Lizzie, Lauren Drew shines but is joined by the formidable talents of Shekinah McFarlane as Emma, Maiya Quansah-Breed as Alice and Mairi Barclay as Bridget.  It's a powerful quartet of voices and impeccable timing.  The show's second half quickly dispenses with the trial of the century, but not without pointing out that having a little money and being a woman has advantages. 

Directed and choreographed by William Whelton and music direction by Honor Halford-MacLeod, Lizzie continues at the Southwark Playhouse until 2 December before heading to the New Theatre, Peterborough, from 6 December.


Photos by Pamela Raith


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