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Burke and Hare at Jermyn Street Theatre | Review

Burke and Hare. The Watermill Theatre. Hayden Wood, Katy Daghorn, Alex Parry. Photo by Philip Tull.
Burke and Hare. The Watermill Theatre. Hayden Wood, Katy Daghorn, Alex Parry. Photo by Philip Tull.

The theatrical story of Burke and Hare, who provided Dr Knox with a plentiful supply of dead bodies for dissection in early nineteenth century Edinburgh, is the perhaps surprising, but inspired, choice of pre-Christmas fare at Jermyn Street Theatre this December.

The undoubted success of this production is due in no small part to the imaginative script by Tom Wentworth, which is in turn truly hilarious and serious. He has the gift of speeding us through the plot at breakneck speed, except for the occasional moments of true pathos, asking the three actors involved to play a myriad of characters in under two hours.

Katy Daghorn, Alex Parry and Hayden Wood make a true ensemble, clearly enjoying working together and having the real gift of making it all look so easy, when in fact they are working very hard! When not on stage, which is most of the time, they are offstage changing costumes whilst making sound effects and/or playing instruments and/or singing! They are easily able to involve the audience in their escapade – just don’t sit in the front row unless you REALLY wish to be involved!

The story is told from the point of view of Dr Monro (an always watchable Katy Daghorn) who runs out of cadavers to dissect at the same time as Dr Knox (a superbly comical Hayden Wood) seems inundated with the same thanks to Alex Parry, whose roles and changes of costume are breath-taking at times. Everything is in very good taste and the production is suitable for those of a nervous disposition!

Direction is in the hands of Abigail Pickard Price who has been able to give the show terrific pace without it ever seeming self-indulgent. The set (Toots Butcher) has been cleverly designed to aid the actors on the tiny stage as much as possible – in fact, the stage is even smaller than that of the Watermill Theatre at Bagnor, where the production was first seen earlier this year. The whole enterprise is greatly aided by imaginative lighting design by Harry Armytage.

In short, if you are looking for something a bit different in the run-up to Christmas, in a theatre 2 minutes from Piccadilly Circus, Burke and Hare can be thoroughly recommended as an uproarious evening out! Just remember that the theatre only seats 70, so you will need to book in advance!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

1828, Edinburgh. William Burke and William Hare hit on a new money-making scheme. The first rule of business? Supply and demand. In the leading city for medical research, there’s a huge demand for bodies and inconveniently few deaths. The profitable solution? Murder, of course. As the infamous pair flourish in their new careers, the more they murder, the less they care. But for how long will they get away with it?

This new black comedy is as hysterical as it is historical. Following last year’s uproarious The Hound of the Baskervilles, three actors once again take on a host of vivid characters.

Katy Daghorn (Mrs Hare)
Alex Parry (William Hare)
Hayden Wood (William Burke)

Directed by Abigail Pickard Price
Designed by Toots Butcher
Lighting by Harry Armytage

A Watermill Theatre production
Originally created by Jenny Wren Productions

Burke and Hare
Wed, 28th November – Fri, 21st December
Jermyn Street Theatre
The REBELS Season
Running time: Around 2 hours 15 minutes, with one interval.


  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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