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Dead Man’s Suitcase: A Review

At once funny and profound, Dead Man’s Suitcase is a treat for the senses.

Written by Felix Westcott with orchestrations by Declan Molloy and produced by Triple Cheque Productions, it follows John, an obituary writer. Unhappy with his life, he settles on faking his death as a means to start over and pursue his dream of becoming a famous novelist. However, he eventually realises that a true crime fantasy novel written for children does not exist for good reason. By dealing with death, workplace politics, ambition, selfishness, the breakdown of marriage, and more in a humorous and emotional way, this original comedy musical leaves its audiences with much to think about. 

The intimacy of the Burton Taylor Studio certainly draws us in as the diegetic world blends with the real. The setting is simple – which not only adds to the connection between the audience and the actors and actresses, but also implies that much is dependent on the acting itself. George Vyvyan (John), Tom Freeman (Paul/Psychiatrist), Eva Bailey (Mary/Boss) and Eliana Kwok (Greta/Colleague) have certainly nailed this performance. Despite playing multiple characters, they were able to embody each of their characters in a distinctive manner, creating coherence without confusion.

The musical opens with a song.  “Please tell me what is the role that is written out for me?” is one of many memorable and striking lines. As a student still trying to find her way in the world, this hits close to home. Vyvyan’s performance as John is incredibly convincing – we feel his frustration and cannot help but feel sympathetic towards him initially. We are introduced to John’s unhappiness at his workplace: a frame (which also represents a computer screen) dangles from the ceiling and literally frames his face. We are made aware that he is forced to fit in; he has to live within the box. 

Dead Man’s Suitcase most certainly lives up to its name of being a comedy musical. It is filled with many light moments which elicit much laughter from the audience. The interaction between John and the psychiatrist as well as John’s interaction with Paul are just some examples of the many comedic moments. Freeman does an excellent job executing his characters Paul and the psychiatrist, drawing laughter from the audience in many instances. Neither could I resist chuckling whilst watching Kwok’s performance as John’s colleague.

Packed with emotion, the songs are immensely powerful, and one cannot help but lament that the songs are not on music streaming sites. The song before John and Mary’s date struck me the hardest, as its setup makes for an obvious contrast. It is a clear reminder that the act of faking his own death is selfish and has implications for those around him. Bailey’s talent is evident: she successfully communicates an emotional intensity that is at once heartbreaking and inspiring. Her hope, success, and refusal to let John back into her life like a traveller whose absence is temporary is empowering. I find the title extremely interesting – the finality of “dead” is placed alongside “suitcase”.

Dead Man’s Suitcase closes with a haunting reminder for audiences to witness and learn from John’s mistakes; to realise and appreciate what we have in the present and not let ambition blind us. After all, there is “no reset button”.

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