10 Jul

By Deirdre Strath, adapted from ‘The Fall River Murders’ by Angela Carter.
at the George Bernard Shaw Theatre, RADA
“You can’t chop your poppa up in Massachusetts.” This song was in the movie New Faces of 1954 and was one of the many ditties, poems and reports devoted to the murder in 1892 of millionaire Andrew Burden and his second wife Abby in Fall River Massachusetts. The youngest of Andrew’s two daughters, Lizzie, was accused of the murder and spent some time on remand, but nothing was proved and she was acquitted. Lizzie Borden has been written about many times and never will be I think forgotten.
The last time I saw the Lizzie Borden story it was a musical In this production there is no specially written music, but the show starts with harmonic arrangements of a nursery rhyme ‘Three Blind Mice’ while three main protagonists Andrew Burden, Abby and his daughter Lizzie are sitting on chairs blindfolded as the five strong ensemble sings. The play is lit up from time to time with snatches of other nursery rhymes sung by the company. No musical director is credited so the harmonies must have been organically produced by the actors themselves.
One of the ensemble plays Emma, Lizzie’s elder sister and she narrates for us the story of that Hot day in 1894 when millionaire Mr Boren and his grossly overweight wife were found murdered in their home. She had nineteen cuts on her and he had eleven.
Andrew Borden was an unpleasant character. He was a self-made multi-millionaire and a miser. His house was in the less classy area of the town and the only plumbing was on the first floor where he had his office. He owned all the women in the house, they were all under his thumb. Abby was extremely jealous of both girls, it is no secret that Abby was looking forward to inheriting Andrew’s fortune when he died. Something the girls feared. But it was Lizzie who was his favourite and it seems he frequently molested her sexually.
This is a very interesting interpretation of story full of unsolved mysteries. What happened on Lizzie’s visit to Florence, what made the whole family ill just before the murder, the mysterious burglar, the possibility that Lizzie might have performed the act in a kind of coma.
The production was put on as part of the Rada Festival but it showed a great deal of flair and imagination from the writer Deirdre and director Nona Shepphard. It is certainly worth running as a commercial venture, if the finance can be found.
I look forward to seeing it again.

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