“Here’s to today: yesterday’s gone and tomorrow’s not ready.” An ironically apt toast spoken by the character of ‘bodysnatcher’ William Burke as he spends his final night in prison prior to his execution. In this tight and gripping three-hander, director Stuart Nicoll shines a light on the dark motives of Burke & Hare as crime writer Caroline Dunford’s script seeks to uncover the truth of who was leading who; and of the nature of evil itself.
Presented by Siege Perilous in conjunction with The Burke & Hare Murder Tour operators West Port Tours, Burke is a chilling and illuminating look into one of the darkest episodes of Edinburgh’s past – and of the power of criminal intent.
The majority of the action takes place in Burke’s (Andrew Hainey) cell as his jailor Captain Rose (Mark Kydd) attempts to uncover what really happened during the course of the notorious pair’s 16-strong murder spree. Burke’s partner in crime (Gregor Firth) sits in a separate cell, escaping the gallows by agreeing to testify against his comrade. Stricken by cancer yet still in possession of a disarming charm, Burke dances around Rose’s inquisition, hiding as much as he reveals, even when the action switches in flashback to a recreation of one of their gruesome murders.
This is a complex and intriguing piece, its 60 minutes filled with twists, turns and reveals which keep the audience as fascinated as the obsessed Captain Rose. Hainey is excellent as the protagonist, his soft Irish tones dripping with ambiguity, managing to evoke sympathy and revulsion in equal measure. Kydd portrays the wavering moral compass of Rose convincingly, particularly as doubt begins to cloud his judgement. Firth has the lesser of the three roles, but displays a menacing strength whenever the spotlight shines on him, his flashing eyes and sharp grin expressing a malicious intent and immoral intelligence.
As Burke’s tomorrow finally dawns, the audience – like Rose himself – are left with some questions still unanswered, but ultimately satisfied by an well-directed and written journey into darkness in all its shadowy forms.
Burke runs until 20 November at The GRV.