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Last Chance to See: Burke & Hare


Robert Boulton descends into the dark and comical world of Burke and Hare at the Jermyn Street Theatre

Heading from the ground level to the tiny theatre adds to the whole experience – the narrow tunnel gives Jermyn Street Theatre so much of its theatrical transportation and charm. Emerging, guests are greeted by Toots Butcher’s wonderful stage design. Creating a playground for actors to convincingly transport the audience at points between a tavern, a town square, a mortuary and a courthouse at breakneck pace is a difficult one, yet one that she achieves with macabre and gothic aplomb.

The tale of Burke and Hare is a famous one that has undergone numerous retellings over the years. Set in 1828 in Edinburgh, the two men (aided by Mrs Hare) concoct a plan to make some quick cash. Based on a true story, the infamous mercenaries embark on new murderous careers by killing off unsuspecting civilians and selling their corpses to anatomist Robert Knox for use in his university lectures.

The extremely competent ensemble Hayden Wood (pictured above left, William Burke et al.), Alex Parry (pictured above right, William Hare et al.) and Katy Daghorn (pictured below centre, Mrs Hare et al.) skip through the space with a lightness of touch and irreverence to the dark subject matter with rare dexterity. Each actor is tasked with multi-rolling but it is their commitment to their central roles which lend even more weight to the more outlandish characters at the fringes of the tale.


Daghorn’s Mrs Hare is a powerhouse of a woman, vitriol and distain spewing from every line she delivers, which is contrasted within seconds via a quick costume change to the dewy innocence of William Burke’s love interest. Alex Parry’s Hare similarly to his wife is debauched, cutthroat and portrayed as much as a victim of circumstance as many of his victims, Wood delivers a wide-eyed innocence to a man who is purported to have stepped so far over the wrong side of the law. The three core characters’ journey is accompanied by the addition of excellent musical numbers (also performed by the actors), quick and off-the-cuff audience interaction and a plethora of sudden character switches. Something as simple as a different hat, a hunch and an accent is enough to convince us all of the ‘new’ person on stage, proving that these three actors have numerous strings to their bows.


Outrageous, hilarious and intelligent, the balance of onstage banter, nods to the audience and seamless multi-rolling allows the ensemble to traverse over the grim subject matter and keep audiences mesmerised by the dark humour. Directed by Abigail Pickard Price, this wicked and comical is not one to miss.

Burke & Hare, until December 21, Jermyn Street Theatre, St. James's, London SW1Y 6ST, 020 7287 2875.

Photos courtesy of Philip Tull.


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