Tag Archives: Abigail Pickard Price

Burke & Hare

Jermyn Street Theatre

Burke & Hare

Burke & Hare

Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 30th November 2018


“A quiet night in the West End this is not. And quite right too. For what could be more festive than death, deceit and intrigue?”


Messrs William Burke and Hare have passed into mythology as notorious grave robbers who turned a profit in 1820s Scotland flogging corpses to medical schools. Tom Wentworth’s comic script revisits their tale, claiming to be an ‘objective’ rendering, ‘rooted firmly in reality’. But those seeking an authoritative retelling of Burke and Hare’s story need not apply. This is history played for laughs – a mission very successfully achieved.

Indeed, there’s frank admission of the history’s slipperiness throughout. The opening scene sees the actors in and out of character, clamouring to rehabilitate the reputations of their respective roles. This also serves as a handy introduction to this micro-cast of three.

Such lean staffing certainly leaves nowhere to hide, but this strong ensemble pull it off. Impeccable comic timing delivers laugh-out-loud moments, with Alex Parry and Hayden Wood especially effective as the dastardly duo.

Also strong, Katy Daghorn as, well, almost everyone else, at times comes off a touch mannered. As with all the actors here, her ready command of accents is impressive but her physicality can feel awkward. This is a small niggle, though, given the dexterity shown by this apparently tireless trio in what must be an exhausting performance.

The cast canter through a merry repertoire of Victorian Edinburgh’s finest. Indeed, real fun is had with the limits of a three-person cast in a confined space. One gag sees the cast stumped when they realise that, all on stage, they are without a corpse. Considerable charm is applied by Wood and a conscript found: sit on the front row at your peril.

This quip wears thinner in an extended sequence in the second half, but Parry’s shattering performance of every member of an extended family group is nonetheless impressive. This retold joke, though, perhaps eats into time that might have been better spent unravelling the tail-end of the narrative a little more; the conclusion is upon us with little warning and the outcome of the eventual criminal trial feels rushed.

Every resource is put to work to create atmosphere and place in this tiny theatre. This includes intelligent uses of music and sound, such as the metronome set ticking as we wait for yet another lodger to shuffle off this mortal coil. Mention must also be made of the cast’s really beautifully executed close harmonies, from drinking songs to ballads. Lighting, too, is neat, variously suggesting the fug of an Edinburgh street, a sterile anatomy lecture hall and the snug boarding house amongst others.

All in all, Burke and Hare offers surprising levels of merriment for a play about resurrection men. There is balance here – we’re given real menace leading up to and pathos at the death of one key player – but the night rattles along at a fair pace. A quiet night in the West End this is not. And quite right too. For what could be more festive than death, deceit and intrigue?


Reviewed by Abi Davies

Photography by Philip Tull


Burke & Hare

Jermyn Street Theatre until 21st December


Our review of the original Watermill production:
Burke & Hare | Watermill Theatre | ★★★★ | April 2018


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Woman Before a Glass | ★★★★ | January 2018
Mad as Hell | ★★★ | February 2018
The Dog Beneath the Skin | ★★★ | March 2018
Tonight at 8.30 | ★★★★★ | April 2018
Tomorrow at Noon | ★★★★ | May 2018
Stitchers | ★★★½ | June 2018
The Play About my Dad | ★★★★ | June 2018
Hymn to Love | ★★★ | July 2018


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com


Burke & Hare – 4 Stars


Burke & Hare

Watermill Theatre

Reviewed – 25th April 2018


“an amusing and brisk take on a sinister true crime”

At a time when popular culture is pervaded by zombies and the undead it would seem a play based on the nefarious exploits of Burke and Hare is apposite and this show doesn’t disappoint in seeking to tell the grisly story of their misdeeds.

It is however, a misapprehension to consider them as grave robbers, or Resurrectionists, as those who traded in corpses at the time were euphemistically referred to as they never actually dug anyone up. Edinburgh where they lived in 1828 was renowned as a centre for anatomical studies and there was always a shortage of cadavers. The “lazy Irishmen” as they are wryly described, abetted by Hare’s harpy of a wife – the “dragon lady” – supplied the demand by murdering sixteen people. They used an influenza epidemic as a cover and their client Dr Knox wasn’t one to ask questions.

The set (Toots Butcher) immediately drew one into this dark underworld with its busy squalor and ominously blood splattered gowns and curtains that masked the two entrances through which a seemingly endless stream of new characters zipped on and off in true Molieresque style. Ironically the legend “Miseratione Non Mercede” (Compassion Not Gain) hung over the whole proceedings. The lighting (Harry Armytage) was skilfully used going from bright to increasing gloom to demonstrate the looming menace of the story as the gruesome twosome and the shrill Mrs Hare started out on their desperate careers.

Music, performed on guitar and mandolin by the male cast and whisky featured in most every scene including several renditions of “Whisky In The Jar” which also formed a suitably rowdy and well deserved encore.

Alex Parry played the permanently inebriated and hen pecked Mr Hare as well as many of the victims, Hayden Wood was the largely clueless but ultimately conscientious Mr Burke and also Dr Knox, and Katy Daghorn was the harridan Mrs Burke and Dr Munro who narrated much of the sordid tale. All played with frenetic gusto and good comic timing making some bits seem almost ad libbed. Scenes that stood out were the rivalry between Knox and Munro as they vied for audiences for their dissections making excellent use of the height difference between the players. And the introduction of an entire family onto the stage leaving Alex Parry with the onerous task of portraying all seven, including a parrot, with only two hats as props was a bravura performance.

As to a favourite sound bite that would have to be “Care to catch a hanging sometime?” as a unique chat up line. Overall an amusing and brisk take on a sinister true crime that is to be recommended.


Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com

Photography by Philip Tull

Burke & Hare

Watermill Theatre until 5th May


Previously at this venue
Under Milk Wood | ★★★★ | October 2017
Teddy | ★★★★★ | January 2018
The Rivals | ★★★★★ | March 2018


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com