BLOODLESS: THE TRIAL OF BURKE AND HARE by Joseph Aragon, directed by Adam Brazier, with Evan Buliung, Eddie Glen, Jan Alexandra Smith, Trish Lindström, David Keeley and Carly Street. Presented by Theatre 20 at the Panasonic Theatre (651 Yonge). Previews tonight (Thursday, October 11), opens Friday (October 12) and runs to October 28, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday 2 pm. $49-$69. 416-872-1212. See listing.
New Canadian musicals are getting a big boost through the work of Theatre 20, an artist-led company dedicated to story-driven, Canadian-created shows.
The company makes its debut with Bloodless: The Trial Of Burke And Hare, a Fringe hit by Winnipeg playwright Joseph Aragon. Its central figures, William Burke and William Hare, are 19th-century serial killers who sell their victims' bodies to a medical school.
"It's a story filled with lust, murder and the desire for power," says Carly Street, a founding member of Theatre 20 who plays Janet, an 1820s Edinburgh prostitute whose friend Mary becomes one of the pair's cadavers. "But while the material is dark, the show is delicious fun, sophisticated and filled with great tunes."
The two men, who work together as labourers and obtain their first corpse by accident, find they can make a better living killing people and selling their remains to a prof named Knox, who doesn't question where the bodies came from.
In time, they and their wives, who become part of the murderous scheme, are caught and put on trial.
"Burke is the man of impetuous action, while Hare's more practical, the one with common sense," says Street, a Toronto actor who last performed here in Intimate Apparel before heading off to the States, where she was recently in the Broadway run of Clybourne Park.
"Their friendship goes off the rails when they start to one-up each other and find themselves, through competition, ambition and greed, in the most dangerous of circumstances. The increased violence blows their friendship apart."
Ironically, just as the relationship of the partners in crime explodes, Janet and Mary discover a union of hope.
"Janet starts with the smallest world picture in the play," says Street. "She knows the gutters and alleys of 1829 Edinburgh and has experienced disillusionment and violence.
"Then she strikes up a friendship with the younger Mary, who suggests to Janet that miracles can happen and destinies can be changed. Janet scoffs at first, but the affection Mary offers her cracks open Janet's shell and allows her to feel love and a sense of self-worth for the first time."
Street characterizes the music that helps tell the story as "modern, sweeping, lyrical, melodic and polyphonic."
The stylistically varied songs range from Janet and Mary's folk-song-inspired The Fairest Of Ladies to an epic chorus in which the outraged citizens of Edinburgh call for revenge against the murderers.
The performer credits Theatre 20's artistic director, Adam Brazier, not only with helping spearhead the company but also with bringing exceptional chops to directing the show.
"Adam's a live receptor in the rehearsal room, always seeing the big picture but also taking what his actors offer. He then crafts a show based on his interpretation of the script and what's actively happening in the room.
"He combines preparedness and spontaneity, respect for the playwright and a desire to move the script forward with the actors' help. He provides an incredibly live, organic rehearsal space.
"We all trust him, and that trust is part of what an artist-centred company like Theatre 20 is all about."