Review: Bury The Hatchet

4 star rating
The dense, but intriguing story of brutal murders and the notorious trial of Lizzie Borden is energetically brought to life by impressively accomplished actor-musicians.
Bury The Hatchet at Hope Theatre

Image: Hope Theatre

Theatre: Hope Theatre

Closes here: Saturday 11 August 2018

Sasha Wilson, further devised by The Company


Sasha Wilson

Joseph Prowen

David Leopold


Andrew and Abby Borden are found dead in Fall River, Massachusetts on 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 became America's original "mad, bad and dangerous to know" icon of tabloid and rumour.


Returning from a tour in the US, Bury the Hatchet is true crime podcast meets bluegrass musical; a fun feminist reimagining of the Lizzie Borden story.

Out Of The Forest Theatre is an ensemble-based company that attempts to redefine traditional narrative structure with an eye to blending music, movement and storytelling.

People's Choice Award Winners - VAULT Festival 2018.

ActDrop reviews

Peter Brown

Performance date: Thursday 26 July 2018
Review star rating image

After sweltering in the exhausting intensity of the hottest day of the year, a brave and undaunted audience fetched-up for a night at the theatre to hear the tale of Lizzie Borden, the main suspect in the infamous Fall River axe murders.

The fans kindly given us by the ever-thoughtful Hope Theatre were soon much in useful evidence, providing a kind of surreal, single-winged butterfly squadron fluttering around the action for this historical tale of murder most foul.

The hatchet in the title refers to the murder weapon used to despatch Abby and Andrew Borden who were murdered on the morning of August 4 1892, in Fall River, Massachusetts.

The case is notorious in American criminal history because of its horrific nature and the fact that the perpetrator was never brought to justice.

However, Lizzie Borden, Andrew Borden's daughter and Abby's step-daughter, was tried for the crime, but acquitted.

The story is, of course, compelling in itself - most of us love real-life crime stories, and the nature of the felony in this instance adds a gory flavour to events.

But how do you tell a story of this kind, without it becoming a rather dry lecture or uninspiring history lesson?

In the hands of Out Of The Forest Theatre the bloody slaughter and Lizzie's subsequent trial become an inventive and lively piece of musical theatre with nine well-composed songs delivered by three gifted actor-musicians.

It's a rather densely-packed show in terms of the sheer amount of information that the plot includes - maybe a bit too much for the current meteorological conditions which have already toasted our brains, leaving them mushily slow.

But handy programme notes do provide essential elements in the narrative's timeline and something to cling on to as the complex proceedings unfold.

And it's not just the murders themselves that we hear about - there's a considerable amount of back story, including a suspected poisoning of the victims shortly before they were set-upon by a hatchet-wielding murderer, and much else besides.

Dressed in a long black gown which looks appropriate for the era under discussion, but looks stifling to wear, writer Sasha Wilson leads the cast in concocting an amalgam of music, song and dialogue laced with an appropriate dose of humour as the vehicle to reveal Lizzie's story.

Some of that humour emanates from the cast drifting in and out of character as they switch roles to develop the plot.

All are impressively accomplished musicians and singers, offering well-composed songs that segment the plot, adding to the overall atmosphere and keeping things moving at a brisk pace.

The revelations in Bury The Hatchet are often surprising - the investigation into the murders seemed more detailed than one might have expected for the late nineteenth century.

At the same time, some of the matters - like an autopsy being conducted on a kitchen table - weren't quite so impressively rigorous, or hygienic.

So this play is not merely a musical crime story but incorporates a layer of informative historical perspective and, overall, it's a polished, diverting piece, energetically brought to life by a talented team.

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