Lions Den Theatre turns to crime

The Lizzie Borden murders are the basis for a true-crime audio series based on the original 1893 trial transcript

A photo of the jury members in the 1893 murder trial of Lizzie Borden. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons public domain).
A photo of the jury members in the 1893 murder trial of Lizzie Borden. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons public domain).

Halifax-based Lions Den Theatre has found inspiration for a new audio drama in one of North America’s most famous crimes, the August 1892 slaying of a wealthy landlord and his wife and the subsequent trial of their youngest daughter Lizzie.

Inspiring countless books, poems, films, television shows and one very iconic nursery rhyme, Lions Den is ignoring all the lore, rumour and speculation of the Lizzie Borden murders by producing a multi-episode true-crime audio series based on the original 1893 trial transcript.

Lizzie Borden took an axe And gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, She gave her father forty-one.
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons public domain)

As a Borden enthusiast, Morrison saw her story as a good place to start.

“This season is our tenth, and we’d hoped for a big year of live theatre; unfortunately, it’s not possible. We had to adapt and overcome,” says artistic director Keith Morrison. “We turned to audio drama in April as a means of keeping our wheels moving. When we were brainstorming ideas, someone suggested doing a true-crime show.”

“She is one of the most polarizing people in North American history,” says Morrison. “There are those who’ve devoted their lives to studying The Borden Murders. Some see her as a spoiled cold-blooded killer, whereas others as an early feminist hero. Even within our cast, there is a big divide as to opinions on her guilt or the legitimacy of potential motives.”

That cast consists of upwards of 40 Nova Scotian actors, and while most are based in Halifax and Cape Breton, it includes people living in seven provinces and three countries, including as far afield as New Zealand.

“This project is special because of the people who can be involved. It’s recorded remotely, so the cast is a good mix of regular Lions Den collaborators and people who have left the area and might not have the time to invest in a standard stage production,” says Morrison. “We’ve used social isolation to broaden our community and invite new voices and talents into the fold.”

In adapting the story, Morrison says while it is centred around Lizzie Borden, it is really the story of a town and its citizens from various religious, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds at a unique moment in history.

“At the time, Fall River, Massachusetts was a booming factory town that was undergoing an unprecedented expansion,” says Morrison. “Like Halifax or Sydney, Fall River was a steadily
growing city that had retained a very regimented social structure dating back to the colonial times. In a very short amount of time, that whole system was upended by thousands of new arrivals. Throw one of history’s most notorious crimes into the mix, and it’s more entertaining than most fiction.”

To date, the group has released four editions of the series via their YouTube page, with new episodes released every two or three weeks.