Any ‘true story’ with only one source should be treated with a degree of reservation and when it comes to tales about crimes, this is especially true. Drawing upon a true account from the late 19th century, Sasha Wilson – artistic director of Ouf Of The Forest Theatre – has written a show based on Lizzie Bowden. Accompanied by Joseph Prowen and Sam Jenkins-Shaw, the trio perform prairie bluegrass music and deconstruct the ‘facts’ from the truth of the homicide…
In Fall River, Massachusetts in 1892, Andrew and Abby Morgan were found dead. The cause of death? Blows received from a hatchet (though at the time it was erroneously believed to be an axe). Just as Alice Morgan in the BBC TV series Luther was the prime suspect fror killing her parents, all eyes were on Lizzie Bowden when her parents were found. However, while Morgan was culpable but set free because of a lack of evidence, the guilt of Bowden was never truly ascertained. Due to lack of evidence and an unfortunate previous incident, it was decided to err on the side of caution to deliver a ‘not gulity’ verdict. However, this was in spirit closer to the Scottish ‘not proven’ verdict – considered guilty, but with no damning proof to substantiate the claim.
While the cast dress in attire from the period, they don’t stay ‘in character’ as they repeatedly address the audience and give a 21st century perspective on things. A lot of the show’s humour and insights stems from the details – rhymes that allude to inaccuracies in what was reported, contemporary references, plus the faux ad-libbed nature of Bury The Hatchet as the cast debate what should be shown and what actually took place.
In some ways the premise of Bury The Hatchet is straightforward, but it’s the combination of the supposedly disparate elements that gives it a ‘freshness’, its unpredictability keeping it several steps ahead of the audience. Music, humour, folktales and the verbal hint of bloody endeavours – the stuff that theatre is made of.
© Michael Davis 2017
Bury The Hatchet ran at King’s Head Theatre on 13th and 14th July 2017 as part of Festival 47.