Step from twinkling Regent Street into the mist-shrouded streets of 1928 Edinburgh; Bodysnatching duo Burke and Hare is an interesting premise for a black comedy, and is skilfully carried out at Jermyn Street Theatre.
Medical science is advancing rapidly and anatomists are in need of bodies to experiment on. Cash-strapped friends William Burke and William Hare hit on the idea of selling these surgeons dead corpses for money.
The storyline is more complex than The Hounds of the Baskervilles, another three-hander which played at the same theatre this time last year, but the quality is just as high. Characters play multiple parts, to great effect; Katy Daghorn excels at switching between the terrifyingly domineering wife Mrs Hare and the sweet girlfriend of Burke. Meanwhile, Alex Parry convincingly plays seven family members in succession, including an asthmatic aunt and toddler.
The inclusion of excerpts from the court transcript of Burke’s trial reminds us that Burke and Hare is rooted in a true story, adding an extra thrill to proceedings — with the safety of laughing at it from the distance of history.
The play’s knack for pushing the boundaries of silliness is responsible for several of the show’s highlights; the surgeon lovingly caressing a severed arm she’s been sold, and Burke seducing his lover with a pineapple thanks to his new found income.
Toots Butcher’s cosy set atmospherically recreates the Edinburgh inn where much carousing, whiskey drinking and singing also takes place alongside the murder plotting. Forget Christmas shopping, cold nights and dark skies call for mistletoe and crime.
Burke and Hare, Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, SW1Y 6ST. Tickets £10 – £30. Until 21 December 2018.
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