Serial killer play Burke is back

Oct 28 2013 | By More

Caroline Dunford’s play returns for one night at Close Fest

By Thom Dibdin

Serial killer play Burke, by Edinburgh playwright Caroline Dunford, is to return for one night only as part of Close Fest, performed in Mary King’s Close under Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.

A haunting psychological drama, the play delves into the mind of notorious serial killer William Burke as he waits his execution for his part in the murders of at least 16 people. It was premiered at the GRV in 2010 in a production by Siege Perilous, in association with West Port Productions, and is reviewed in Æ here.

Andrew Hainey as William Burke in the original production. Pic: Gary Daniell Photography

Speaking of the current revival, director Stuart Nicoll told Æ: “As we’ve seen before, this great wee play lends itself fantastically to any space.

“The dark atmospheric surroundings of The Real Mary King’s Close add great depth to the setting and allows us to play out one of Edinburgh’s darkest crime stories, in a very accurate backdrop. It’s been very interesting reworking the staging to fit the Close.”

Set in the prison cell from which Burke was to be taken to his death, he is seen as a man possessed by the enormity of his own deeds. His gaoler, one Captain Rose who is there to stop Burke from taking his own life, has become equally obsessed in trying to understand Burke’s motives.

In a nearby cell, Burke’s conspirator William Hare is waiting to find out when he will be released after turning King’s evidence. Using accounts from Burke’s two-day trial in 1828, it is a telling of the story which challenges the common perception about who the main protagonist was in the deadly partnership between Scotland’s most notorious serial killers.

The performances are on Sunday 3 November as part of ‘Close Fest’, a 10 day programme of underground events at the Real Mary King’s Close, running from 31 October to 9 November.

The Close Fest programme will include events ranging from murderous make-up, quirky comedy and spine tingling theatre to melancholy music and murder mystery, and marks the tenth anniversary since the warren of streets that make up The Real Mary King’s Close opened as a commercial visitor attraction.

The Real Mary King’s Close, 2 Warriston’s Close, High Street, Edinburgh,  EH1 1PG
Sunday 3 November 2013. 7.30pm (sold out) and 9.15pm. £12.50.
Ticket and booking details on

The full Close Fest programme is listed on


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