is well-timed for those looking for a musical with a Halloween feel. The tale is based on the true story of two Irishmen who murdered 17 people in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the early 19th century. The set is hazy and grey, the eyes are sunken — the chorus is mostly people who have been or will be killed over the course of the musical — the whores are particularly ragged, and the Irishmen are down on their luck. However, in the proper Halloween spirit, Bloodless
is not just grim, but also full of playful and cleverly crafted dark humour — the kind that inspires an almost-guilty kind of laughter.
The first victim is not really a victim at all but a man who dies of natural causes. William Burke and William Hare take the body to Dr Knox, of the Edinburgh Medical College. Because of the insufficient number of cadavers for use in anatomy courses, they earn a tidy profit for this prize. This encourages them to contrive a few more deaths (and then many
more deaths) in order to alleviate their poverty. Amusingly, they consider themselves above digging up graves, but not above murder. They are already having loads of fun by the time they find their second victim — who they actually kill, and do so when he is passed-out drunk — singing verses like “Aye, the bugger is better off dead!”
It is hard to find anything wrong with this musical. On opening night there were a few technical glitches — an oddly long pause between the introduction of the show and the dimming of the lights, which inspired a lot of murmuring and the occasional burst of nervous laughter from the audience — and a microphone or two faltered briefly, but these were all forgivable and the audience seemed hardly to notice. The acting is superb, the cast members fit their roles perfectly, the Irish and Scottish accents are entirely plausible, and the songs and dialogue are smart and funny. It is hard not to laugh at an Irishman clapping his latest victim on the back and saying, “At the end of the day, he’s only so much meat!” or an anatomy professor singing things like “From the jaundice we observe the latest stages of cirrhosis!” as he pulls organ after organ out of a corpse and hands them off to nearby students who are suitably aghast.
Bloodless runs till Sun, Oct 28 at the Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge St. mirvish.com
See also a
Fab interview with one of the producers, Michael Rubinstein.