Woody Allen’s words that “it is impossible to experience one’s death objectively and still carry a tune,” leapt into my head after Bereavement: the Musical. A song cycle that claims to be an all-singing, all-dancing musical about loss, composer Jeff Carpenter and writer Mairin O’Hagan, who lost parents in their teens, use their own experiences to give life to characters feeling grief of their own, although some more successfully than others.
Perhaps confusingly, the show mostly doesn’t feel like it is written from the heart of Carpenter and O’Hagan’s experiences. Instead, we get a story of high-flying city worker who’s lost her mother, a father caring for a child, and a vicar wrestling with her faith. It’s when a teenager, played by Will Karani, comes on to sing the crude but superbly funny ‘Is It Wrong To Have A Wank When Mum’s Dead?’ that the musical gathers a little more energy. Anyone suspecting insensitivity in tackling such an ostensibly weighty subject won’t find it in the songs played broadly for laughs; it’s in the songs where the writers feel the need to make a more philosophical point – a song about emotional ‘baggage’ comes to mind – that feel a little more awkward.
Still, the young cast are generally strong and, although I wanted more group performances, there was a lot of passion in these students from Cambridge University. Carpenter’s music could have done with a little more complexity, and I wanted a little more originality in melodies: the song ‘It’s A Funny Little Cabaret We Go Through’ felt too much a homage to Kander and Ebb’s ‘Cabaret’ for comfort. Still, songs like ‘Playing The Death Card,’ with its echoes of Company’s ‘Side By Side’ proved audience winners.