Review by Tatum Stafford
It’s always a real pleasure to catch brand-new musicals in their early iteration, and it was great to catch a sold-out performance of ‘Dead Man’s Suitcase’ at Fringe this season.
The show has quite a simple premise. An obituary writer wants to hit the ‘reset’ button on his life – he’s having trouble at work, and a tough time at home with his wife and newborn baby – so he decides to fake his own death.
The show was written by Oxford University students, and unfortunately, the writing fell quite flat for me. It was a 50-minute performance, and during the first 30 minutes, we were fed a whole lot of exposition about the man’s life. We saw him go to work, lose a promotion to a coworker, come home and have a sleepless night with his newborn, seek help for the malaise he is feeling, et cetera. This meant that by the time the actual action took place and he faked his death, the writing felt quite rushed to wrap things up in a nice bow, and the ending wasn’t super satisfying.
I also felt some of the writing, including a scene at the man’s funeral which includes his very blunt obituary, to be a bit insensitive and callous. Perhaps if the audience had more sympathy for the character and how hard his life had become (which to be honest, I didn’t feel too concerned for him during the exposition, as his issues seemed more like bumps in the road rather than life-derailing problems), this would have flowed better and been more satisfying. I did enjoy parts of his wife’s plot line, of realising life is too short and going after her dream job, but this did raise internal question marks about why she didn’t feel empowered to do this sort of thing while in their marriage, and why it took a death for her to gain a bit of self-confidence and assuredness. I wonder if a female perspective on the writing team would assist with further character development here. The songs, written by Felix Westcott with orchestrations by Declan Molloy, were enjoyable and punctuated the story nicely.
There were some very strong performances from some cast members – I loved Eva Bailey’s soaring voice and acting chops, and comic relief from Christian Goodwin was fantastic. Unfortunately, I had some issues hearing Eliana Kwok, particularly when singing, so perhaps microphones or red locking would help this in future iterations. Tom Freeman played the lead with a lot of gusto and commitment, and I particularly enjoyed his sections of patter in the score.
With a bit more development, I think this has the potential to be a really solid show. It was great to see a fresh idea and original story, and I look forward to seeing where it goes in future productions.