The Body Snatcher

The Body Snatcher

Brisbane Arts Theatre

11th August – 8th September 2012 

Reviewed by Meredith McLean

The title it self had me ready for something big. Something terrifying; something whimsical in a macabre way. I was ready for old-fashioned mystery. I had worked myself into an excited state, ready for doctors and detectives, unsuspecting criminals and stifling chills. The only problem is the playwright, Scott Barsotti, had brought us a snaring story but it is the wrong story being told.

He ticks all the boxes as a playwright with horror themed leanings. Cadavers, check. Graveyard, check. Grave robbers, check. Ambiguous relations between the young and the old (or perhaps older is the appropriate word), check. He even kindly provides us a slightly cliché opening scene with a beautiful, blonde haired beauty who carries with her a soon to be beautiful child. Singing a sad Irish ditty nonetheless, check!

But it was misleading, and though I did indeed have a satisfactory night of mystery and medical madness, I did not have the night I had hoped for. The promo will tell you “And as the wind bites and nights grow colder, who’s going to miss a few ladies of the night anyway?” In fact, the play, adapted from ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON’s short story, is based around the true tale of Burke and Hare, who murdered in the name of medical advancement. Though they did also make a profit off these “advancements”.

That was the tale I was anticipating and though the Barsotti’s dialogue is bewitching and lyrical the tale he has depicted was stale at times. Too much implied and not enough applied perhaps? Kate McKenzie, played by Libby Glasson whom, despite her smaller quantity of dialogue in fact dominated the stage quite well, could have easily been removed from the script all together. Leaving the final summation still as seamless as it was. But I’m glad she wasn’t; I found her to be one of the highlights of the play.

The entire cast combatted well with the somewhat predictable course of the narrative. I believed them to be medical professionals of the 19th century. The costume design by Caitlin Rowe made me feel like I had fallen into a Victorian Gothic novel. The stances and the way they pronounced each well-worded line is what brought the play back to the audience.

Despite moments of melodrama, there was some crackling phases of tension. Alex Lanham, who undertook the role of Gray, brought a strange power play to every scene he engaged. The arrangement and secrecy between himself and Dr. McFarlane, played by Stephen Smith, as well as the ambiguous relations between himself and Hood, played by Sophie Schoenknecht, were not just a wash over of conflict. I wanted to know more, I wanted to see more. And he would pull away off the stage into the shadows just before I’d had enough every time.

I guess there is a give and take relationship to this production. The costumes are wonderful. The lighting and stage direction is eerie. The actors of the Brisbane Arts Theatre bring all that they can; they are the give in this scenario I believe. Despite the somewhat lilting moments of the play, if you find yourself invested in the characters the narrative will be a satisfying undercurrent for you. The season is still young yet so do not shoot the messenger. Attend this dark, cold night by yourself or with friends and whatever you do, don’t walk off the path in the graveyard!

The Body Snatcher


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