Pros: A wonderfully talented cast happily connecting with the audience.
Cons: Multiple characters and minimal costume changes occasionally makes the action difficult to follow.
The story of Burke and Hare has been regularly plundered for TV dramas, documentaries and two big screen versions, the most recent of which starred Andy Serkis and Simon Pegg. It’s not difficult to see why, as it remains a cracking yarn based on true events. The play tells of the titular characters that embarked on a series of murders in Edinburgh in 1838. They subsequently sold the corpses to Dr Robert Knox for dissection at his anatomy lectures: strict legal rules had created a chronic shortage of cadavers, leading to the development of this dark trade.
The compact Jermyn Street Theatre provides a perfectly intimate space for the play. A simple set includes two doorways where the actors exit and enter the stage at breakneck pace. The three-strong cast are excellent throughout, attacking the story with gusto. Allhave a primary role, but each has a number of additional characters to play, which they pull off with remarkable precision. Katy Daghorn as Mrs Hare, Hayden Wood as William Burke and Alex Parry as William Hare work like a well-drilled tag team, as the story moves from slapstick to farce and brief moments of drama. There are periodic musical interludes as Burke and Hare duel with guitar and mandolin about the virtues of whiskey. They open and close Act II with a hearty version of Irish folk song Whiskey in the Jar – a real contrast to the arrangement made famous by Thin Lizzy. It’s occasionally difficult to follow the rapid character changes, involving little more than a change of headwear. My own confusion spread as all three actors played Ferguson at various points, with no more than a red hat to identify the character.
Katy Daghorn just about pips the boys for the cigar as she masters an impressive range of dialects, from the cockney intonation of Mrs Hare to the lush Edinburgh tones of Dr Monroe. The overall production does have a slightly hectic feel, but wins through a personable cast that cleverly keep the audience on its toes by breaking the fourth wall.
Author: Tom Wentworth
Original Creation: Jenny Wren Productions
Director: Abigail Pickard Price
Producer: Jermyn Street Theatre
Box Office: 020 7287 2875
Booking Link: https://www.eticketing.co.uk/jermynstreettheatre/list.aspx
Booking Until: 21 December 2018