In 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered in their home – victims of a gruesome axe attack. Lizzie Borden was acquitted of her father and step-mother's murders, but no-one was ever found guilty; it's become a notorious case in American legal history, and through the years there have been many theories about what might have happened. This short play by American playwright Carolyn Gage is told from the perspective of the family maid, Bridget, looking back over thirty years later.
Joanna Lavelle gives a fine performance as Bridget. She's prompted by Lizzie's newspaper obituary to reminisce about the day of the murders, when only she and Lizzie could be proved to be in the house with the victims. Bridget seems at first an irascible old woman, pleased with herself for coming so far – "Lace Curtain Irish" refers to those Irish immigrants to America that have climbed into the middle class – and mocking of the tight-fisted Bordens. But there are early signs that the incident has had a more traumatic impact on her than she would care to admit, and as she delves deeper into the past we are presented with an intriguing insight into her relationship with Lizzie.
As Bridget becomes overwhelmed by her memories, we begin to doubt her account of events – an accout which she possibly even believes herself. It is a powerful piece, with language reflecting a distinctive Irish style of speech, which Lavelle captures very well. She has created a memorable character in Bridget.
Lace Curtain Irish is a short play, so Lavelle has paired it with another piece about dark family secrets. In Crossing the Line by Michael Sheath, a woman recounts the events of the past year, starting by being awoken early one morning when the police came to arrest her husband for possession of child pornography. It is not as strong a piece as Lace Curtain Irish and though Lavelle’s performance is competent, something doesn’t quite connect.
Elsewhere on this Fringe there was a verbatim play featuring a man arrested in front of his family and taken away (a very different case, I hasten to add), and Crossing the Line doesn’t quite match up; it is too mannered and thought-through. The important little details, which ring true and bring home the reality of the situation, aren’t there – unfortunately, making a cup of tea at a time of crisis has become rather a cliche.
A couple of minor points would warrant some attention. One of the lights used to backlight the simple set was shining straight at the audience, making it uncomfortable to sit on one side of the room; and while Lavelle’s introduction to the pieces is interesting, I’m not sure it is necessary – surely plays should be able to speak for themselves. However, Lace Curtain Irish is a fascinating play, well performed, and it was a good idea to pair it with another short piece for an entertaining hour.