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Review of Bury The Hatchet at The King’s Head Theatre

Bury the HatchetI’m not sure it could be called a trend but this is the second piece of theatre about Lizzie Borden I’ve seen in the past four months and although they both take as their starting point the old folk rhyme “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks” they couldn’t be more different. Lizzie which was produced at the Greenwich Theatre back in the spring was a loud, bombastic rock musical whilst Bury The Hatchet is a far gentler piece altogether – and is much the better for it.

Like a lot of theatre these days (this definitely is a trend), the three actors are on stage as the audience take their seats. They’re warming up vocally, tuning their instruments and even putting on their boots! Eventually, when the audience is settled, the house lights go down and the play begins.

However, this is no ordinary telling of the story of Lizzie Borden and her axe – in fact it seems that she (if it was her) didn’t take an axe to her parents but a hatchet – but that wouldn’t have worked in the old rhyme – which the cast explain as they relate the gruesome tale. Using old American folk songs such as “The Wayfaring Stranger” and “Hard Times Come Again No More”, the superb cast fuse folktale, nursery rhyme and good old fashioned music hall to spin their yarn. They go in and out of character, break the fourth wall by addressing (and sometimes sitting with) the audience and even discuss plot points with each other – this is the epitome of meta-theatre!

Sasha Wilson (who also wrote the piece) is wonderful as Lizzie and she is superbly aided and abetted by Sam Jenkins-Shaw who plays multiple male characters (and the occasional female one) as well as playing the guitar and singing. The third member of the very talented trio is Joseph Prowen who also plays multiple characters (male and female) and the banjo and violin – and sings of course. There’s a wonderful moment where the two musicians break into Pink Floyd’s “Money” only to be told by Wilson to stop as they don’t have the rights to use the song!

There is no set to speak off, just a few chairs and excellent use is made of a t-shirt to denote long hair and a coat, paper and clever lighting to illustrate photos being taken with an old-fashioned plate camera – although there is a real axe (or is it a hatchet?). The use of simple props, the chairs, a coat and hat is inventive and imaginative as is the excellent writing and the performances. There are modern day references to Jeremy Corbyn and Rupert Murdoch as the performers weave their way in and out of the plot and flit between Fall River, Massachusetts in 1892 and the King’s Head Theatre, Islington in 2017. It’s all done seamlessly and with great wit and charm.

Wilson, Prowen and Jenkins-Shaw are all first-rate. There’s great chemistry between them and they seem genuinely to be having fun on stage. They bounce off each other wherever they are in (and out of) the meandering plot and their three-part harmonies are a joy to listen to. Their rendition of “Hard Times Come Again No More” is genuinely moving and a poignant ending to a marvellous piece of theatre.

4 stars

Review by Alan Fitter

Out Of Forest Theatre’s production of Bury The Hatchet is a delight and deserves to be seen by a bigger audience. It’s a part of King’s Head Theatre’s Festival 47 and at around fifty minutes in length is perfect for the festival circuit – next stop Edinburgh, Brighton or The Vaults in 2018?

Bury The Hatchet
Part of Festival 47 at The King’s Head Theatre

Andrew Borden and his wife Abby are found dead in Fall River, Massachusetts on the morning of August 4th, 1892.
Their daughter Lizzie is the main suspect.
Tried but acquitted of the crime, the story goes that she wielded the axe that killed them. Overnight, she becomes America’s original “mad, bad and dangerous to know” icon of tabloid and rumour.

Set to prairie bluegrass music, and fusing folktale, nursery rhyme and Vaudevillian horror, “Bury the Hatchet” will settle the age-old question: Did Lizzie escape the hangman’s noose? And is Andrew and Abby’s blood truly on her hands?

Listings Information
Out Of The Forest Theatre Presents:
Bury The Hatchet
The King’s Head Theatre,
13th & 14th July 2017, at 9.30pm.
Written by: Sasha Wilson
Directed by: Asia Osborne
Lighting Design by: Gregory Jordan
Produced by: Joseph Cullen

Cast: Sam Jenkins-Shaw, Joseph Prowen andSasha Wilson

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