Winnipeg playwright Joseph Aragon's musical, Bloodless: The Trial of Burke and Hare, has accomplished what few other shows originating at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival do - it's seen a second production.
In fact, the version currently being presented by White Rabbit Productions is unofficially referred to as "Bloodless 3.0," as it follows the 2009 Fringe premiere, and a professional production by Toronto's Theatre 20 last October.
Bloodless has expanded since it won rave reviews at the 2009 Fringe - but it may now have become a cautionary tale that sometimes, less really is more.
The basics of the story remain unchanged from the previous versions. The musical draws on the real history of William Burke and William Hare, who committed 16 murders over several months in Edinburgh in 1828. But Burke and Hare weren't just cold-blooded killers, they were also entrepreneurs who sold the bodies of their victims to an anatomy professor for medical research.
This is grisly fodder indeed for a musical, and where Bloodless
works best is when it plays for dark laughs (a number featuring Knox, the anatomy professor, and his students dancing gleefully to a Gilbert and Sullivan-style tune, with the entrails of their latest cadaver, is one such highlight).Bloodless
also has some more serious, and unsettling, contemporary resonance. Most of Burke and Hare's victims were poor and marginalized - and in Bloodless
, initial reports of their disappearances are met with indifference by authorities, raising a disturbing parallel with contemporary cases of missing and murdered women across Canada.
But for all that, Bloodless
loses its audience with an over-long running time of nearly two-and-a-half hours (with intermission, but still considerably longer than the original Fringe running time of 90 minutes). It certainly feels like there are places to trim in the show, which meanders before reaching a more tightly-paced conclusion.
Further, the additions to the script don't seem to have satisfyingly fleshed out the main characters. Carson Nattrass plays the amoral Burke with a charming cluelessness. But while Cory Wojcik effectively captures the conflict in the slightly more principled Hare, he's hampered by a character too thinly-drawn in Aragon's book.
The other element to Bloodless
that doesn't quite satisfy is problematic for a musical, in that it's the music itself. While Aragon's tunes are all likable, and often display an appropriately dark edge, none of them quite take off. There's no show-stopping number here. The music is workable, but doesn't feel like it gives director Sharon Bajer's very talented 15-person cast (a mix of seasoned vets and impressive up-and-comers) the chance to shine the way they could.Bloodless
has made it further than most Fringe productions, but still feels like it hasn't quite made it as far as it could. Maybe version 4.0 will be the one that nails it.Bloodless: The Trial of Burke and Hare runs at the Cercle Moliere Theatre until May 4.
Related:Bloodless aims to draw new audience with local production