‘A good alternative to more typical Christmas theatre’: BURKE & HARE – Jermyn Street Theatre

In Comedy, London theatre, Opinion, Plays, Reviews, Ticket recommendations by Laura KresslyLeave a Comment

Jermyn Street Theatre – until 21 December 2018

A story of two men who murder people in order to sell their corpses to doctors in 1820s Edinburgh shouldn’t work as a dark character comedy with music. But largely work it does and this three-hander, though somewhat structurally clumsy, is a good alternative to more typical Christmas theatre.

Correcting the myth that Burke and Hare robbed fresh graves for bodies, this is a story of two men who make a shortage of hanged prisoners and a surplus of vulnerable people into a deadly combination. Hare and his wife own an inn, and it’s here that they find most of their victims. Mrs Hare is very much in the game as well – also true to history. The script commendably brings women back into stories they’ve since been written out of, even if in this case some of the women are just as unsavoury as the men.

Some of the characters are underwritten and there are a couple of baggy subplots that don’t add much to the central narrative, though. There are some jokes in poor taste, but most are benign.

Folk songs provide effective transitions and more opportunities for comedy. The three, multi-rolling actors (Katy Daghorn, Alex Parry and Hayden Wood) are engaging and fun, with some lovely moments of vulnerability. Their vibrant performances and snappy dialogue drives the show onward, though it’s a touch too long and doesn’t need an interval.

Combining narration, audience interaction and Victorian music hall influence to tell a grim tale of death in historical Scotland, this is a richly textured script paired with a cracking creative team. There are plenty of moments that elicit a chuckle, and the piece’s polish is certainly impressive.

Burke and Hare runs through 21 December.

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Laura Kressly on Twitter
Laura Kressly
Laura is a US immigrant who has lived in the UK since 2004. Originally trained as an actor with a specialism in Shakespeare, she enjoyed many pre-recession years working as a performer, director and fringe theatre producer. When the going got too tough, she took a break to work in education as a support worker, then a secondary school drama teacher. To keep up with the theatrical world, she started reviewing for Everything Theatre and Remotegoat in 2013. In 2015, Laura started teaching part time in order to get back into theatre. She is now a freelance fringe theatre producer and runs her independent blog, theplaysthethinguk.com.
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Laura Kressly on Twitter
Laura Kressly
Laura is a US immigrant who has lived in the UK since 2004. Originally trained as an actor with a specialism in Shakespeare, she enjoyed many pre-recession years working as a performer, director and fringe theatre producer. When the going got too tough, she took a break to work in education as a support worker, then a secondary school drama teacher. To keep up with the theatrical world, she started reviewing for Everything Theatre and Remotegoat in 2013. In 2015, Laura started teaching part time in order to get back into theatre. She is now a freelance fringe theatre producer and runs her independent blog, theplaysthethinguk.com.