Burke and Hare by Terence Newman

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Download Burke and Hare from the Wireless Theatre Company

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.