Dead Man's Suitcase

The title, Dead Man’s Suitcase, doesn’t give much away and even at the end it’s a little unclear what the message of Felix Westcott’s musical is supposed to be.

There is something so empowering yet unsettling

John (Tom Freeman) is an obituary writer stuck in a dead end job and dead end marriage with his wife, Mary (Eva Bailey). To escape this monotony, he fakes his death to escape and live a better and fuller life.

The songs in this musical are superb, Westcott has really created memorable tunes that speak to universal human experiences. He constructs the story cleverly - changing the perspective from which the story is told halfway through - which really puts the consequences of previous events into perspective and turns John into an unreliable narrator. The decision to have a reprise of the first song as the last one is a very clever bookend, but the lyrics don’t exactly make it clear what Dead Man’s Suitcase is trying to say; is it about following your dreams from the start, or is it about compromising? Hard to say, but it leaves us on a very hollow note. I left this show humming the tune of the opening number and there is something so empowering yet unsettling about it, most likely caused by the cognitive dissonance between the soaring melody and almost positive yet existential lyrics. The decision to use a rhythmic narration to a constantly modulating instrumental is perfect for the moment in question and it does make that particular moment more visually interesting and clearer than a song would. There is a lot of humour in Dead Man's Suitcase which makes it deceptively light-hearted before hitting us with the existential, mid-life crisis material like a bus. There’s room for the story to develop, to really show us the breakdown of John’s new life, Mary flourishing and their subsequent reintroduction. In the space of an hour, Westcott lays the groundwork for future development, and it is very clear to see where plot expansion is needed.

The cast are fantastic, especially in committing to the bit and milking the comedy out of a moment, mostly during Tiggy Jones’ choreography. Occasionally it would be better if the cast had mics or the backing track was just turned down, because on occasion, it’s a little hard to hear their singing. Bailey’s voice is just fantastic and she really comes into her own during What About Me, and really showcases her astounding vocal ability.

Dead Man’s Suitcase is a well-written show that needs some more development of the plot and characters. But showing not telling requires time and in an hour there’s only so much that you can do. Within the time that is available, this is a really solid musical that would benefit from more time on stage.

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Reviews by Katerina Partolina Schwartz

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The Blurb

Written by Oxford University students, this new comedy musical follows an obituary writer who seeks refresh by faking his own death. Packed with absurdist caricatures and genre-spanning musical numbers, it asks whether living your dreams is really worth dying for… With an original script and big band/swing songs written by Felix Westcott, and orchestrations by Declan Molloy, Dead Man’s Suitcase is a production that’ll keep you laughing, confounding and most importantly, questioning. 'Packed with toe-tapping tunes, its lyrics are genuinely witty, its story is instantly relatable but at the same time totally fantastical' (DailyInfo.co.uk).

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