Burke and Hare

Date 5th March 2024
Society Macclesfield Amateur Dramatic Society
Venue MADS Little Theatre, Macclesfield
Type of Production Play
Director Andy Cantillon
Written By Tom Wentworth


Author: Steph Niland

This is based on the grim true story of William Burke and William Hare, the infamous “body snatchers” in Scotland in the 1800s. Although they were guilty of not just snatching bodies but murdering people to provide a local anatomist for scientific development and for their own profit and they were actually both Irishmen! Whatever their origin or true crime name, it makes for an interesting tale to base a fast paced, humorous play on!

The play’s concept calls for the entirety of the show to be performed with a cast of only three. Each occasionally playing multiple roles at once and the audience being in on the joke. Much in the style of The 39 Steps and The Hound of the Baskervilles. Thus, the story’s seriousness and unpleasantness are given a comedic twist.

MADS’ production was in the capable directorial hands of Andy Cantillon, (a talented actor too, proven in last season’s Macbeth.) The action began in the audience, which was a clever idea, to break the fourth wall immediately and give us a huge clue as to the type of affair we were about to witness, the audience was addressed by a type of narrator, a device used throughout. The handling of the script and flow of movement was fun and commendable. The choice of setting, to have the stand-alone doors and props on show added to the overall effect he was obviously going for, that of a troop of players depicting the telling of a tale. It felt as if there were no other people involved bar the players in role. Interesting song choices too. Well done!

The three players then. Matt Coath, Connell Costello and Gemma Watson all put in enthusiastic and entertaining performances.

Matt Coath was most at home in the title role of Hare and the dynamics between him and his Mrs were well considered and funny. His turns as the patrons were also entertaining and well judged.

Gemma Watson put in solid and skilled renditions. Her almost constant presence was the glue in the piece, linking the scenes and taking control of the energy brilliantly. Accents galore and a lovely creative spontaneity threaded through every scene she graced.  Congratulations.

Connell Costello put in another accomplished performance, playing the other William – Burke with sardonic and incredibly witty delivery – this is an actor with a strong grasp on timing and focus for comedic effect. The sections between him and Gemma at the podiums as scientific rivals were a highlight.

The writing of the piece is not quite as clever as John Buchan or Phil Willmott, it would lend itself to High School tours perhaps, but the cast and creatives did a sterling job of eking out all the fun tricks this type of piece calls for. Could it have been neater? Yes. Could some of the gags been trimmed for a tighter pace and some characterisations more honed? Probably. (Although this is hard to gauge as each audience reacts differently each night.) But was it fun, endearing, full of energy and did it entertain? Definitely! Praise to all involved.