Wireless Theatre Company, 2013
The story of Burke and Hare, notorious
grave-robbers, is a familiar one, endlessly retold on television, radio and film (notably in Vernon Sewell's low-budget schlock
horror flick). So we do not come to Burke and Hare expecting anything new; what we're looking for is how dramatist
Terence Newman reworks his material.
In this version, Burke (Rob Crouch) and Hare (Jonathan Clarkson) are a pair of rogues whose
principal aim in life is to get rich quick. If that means providing fresh corpses for Dr. Knox (Neil McCormick) to further
his medical research, then so be it. They are aided and abetted by Margaret Hare (Genevieve Swallow), who yearns to
escape from her humdrum life and join the ranks of the bourgeoisie. Although conscience occasionally troubles them,
they justify their actions to themselves by believing that they are providing a service, as well as putting elderly people
out of their misery.
Inevitably, however, ambition gets the better of them, and they start committing murder just for the sake
of maintaining supplies. As with other notorious killers-for-money - notably Sweeney Todd - hubris ensures
their ultimate downfall.
Robert Valentine's production was presented in two parts. I have to admit that I preferred the first
episode; the dialogue positively crackled with witty repartee, as Burke and Hare joked with one another, as well as with those
around them. Each murder, however humane, provided them with a further seven pounds, ten shillings, that they could
either save or - more often - spend on drink and other revelry. The second episode seemed more serious in tone: although
the two conspirators were arraigned in the end, they did not regret what they had done. In a rapidly-emerging capitalist
society, where the rich became richer and the poor poorer, and individuals readily exploited one another for financial gain,
they were simply doing what everyone else did in the hope of achieving success. This argument might seem a little specious
- is murder ever justified? - but offered food for thought.
The cast thoroughly enjoyed themselves in this production. I commend the two leading
actors for their performances, supported by an excellent cast.