Toronto’s Theatre 20 presents its premiere production, Bloodless a new Canadian musical about a pair of enterprising serial killers
In February of last year, Theatre 20 debuted with a big splash. An artist-led, story driven company, Theatre 20 announced their intention of creating a company that would nurture the development of Canadian musical theatre talent and develop new Canadian musicals.
At the time of its launch, artistic director Adam Brazier proclaimed that Theatre 20 would be “the voice of the great unsung musicals” and that the company aimed to create work that was “evocative, memorable and challenging … theatre that asks big questions and explores big ideas.”
The fledgling company spent its first year finding its bearings, producing a series of fundraising concerts and workshops and is now ready to present its inaugural full production: Bloodless: The Trial of Burke and Hare by Winnipeg playwright Joseph Aragon. It’s our first chance to see whether the company can live up to its bold vision.
A previous incarnation of Bloodless won the “Best of Fest” award at the 2009 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. Remember, not so long ago another little “musical that could” called The Drowsy Chaperone came out of a Canadian Fringe Festival and made it all the way to the bright lights of Broadway … no pressure.
Set in 19th century Scotland, Bloodless is based on the outlandish real-life story of William Burke and William Hare, two Irish serial killers who established a business selling the cadavers of their victims to a medical school anatomy class.
With a set-up like that the show has the potential to be a complete riot. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s quite there yet.
I thought the show struggled to find its tone. A story that perverse and macabre needs to be told irreverently to be entertaining; the songs should be smart and witty, the laughs should land at a good rhythm and in that respect I don’t think it hit the mark.
I also think the director Adam Brazier played it too straight in the direction and musical staging and missed some of the potential humour in the situations presented in the script.
I don’t know if there is enough material to warrant a 2-act musical and there are parts of the middle section where the plot starts to stagnate. Some scenes don’t serve to move the plot forward and also aren’t entertaining enough to exist simply for their own sake. Editing down the scenes and tightening the script would help and I wonder if the show wouldn’t work better in a 90-minute intermissionless format.
I found Joseph Aragon’s score to be mostly utilitarian. Much of the show is written in a sung-through recitative “talk singing” style and I didn’t find the few solos and duets particularly memorable.
Granted, most of the lead performers have impressive credits listed in their program bios and deliver some great performances. Evan Buliung and Eddie Glen turn in respectable performances as Burke and Hare despite not being given much to work with; their characters aren’t particularly compelling or well-developed in the script.
Trish Lindström is a standout as Margaret Hare (Hare’s wife), the most conflicted conspirator in the plot and subsequently the most interesting character.
Carly Street also puts in a solid performance as Janet Brown, the “hooker with a heart of gold” who desperately searches for her friend (and implied lover) Mary Paterson who has fallen victim to Burke and Hare’s plot.
In the last few scenes the show finally hits its stride and the tone, pacing and musical staging are really compelling and high-energy. Unfortunately, it’s only at the very end that the show really comes together.
My show-going companion, site founder Megan Mooney, did enjoy the show more than I did. She thought it was fun and said it reminded her of Sweeney Todd.
Overall, I didn’t think Bloodless was the “evocative, memorable and challenging” show that Theatre 20 initially promised. It features some great performances but the show still needs some work before it’s ready for prime time.
- Bloodless: The Trial of Burke and Hare is playing from October 12 – 28, 2012 at the Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge Street, Toronto.
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
- Tickets $49 – $69. Special ticket prices are offered to students at $29 and limited Rush tickets will be released daily at $20. Groups of 10 or more receive a 20% discount.
- Tickets are available in person at any Mirvish theatre box office, by phone at 416-872-1212 or online at Mirvish.com.
– Photo by Ashton Doudelet