Triple Cheque Productions’ original musical Dead Man’s Suitcase, written and directed by Felix Westcott, is ambitious. Just like how the main character John aspires to become a novelist of fantasy true crime for children (‘a gap in the market), the production similarly hoped to blend a variety of genres and themes. Sometimes a workplace comedy, other times a satire on modern life, the musical numbers tie themselves in to make an enjoyable hour of entertainment. 

John is having a midlife crisis. He didn’t get the promotion at his obituary-writing job, his wife has just had a baby that never stops crying, he no longer feels connected to his wife, and he just can’t get the break he needs to chase his dreams of being a novelist and feeling fulfilled. Although us students are still young and cannot relate to the specifics, the play uses the recurring motif of desiring a ‘reset button’ – a way to stop and start again – a metaphorical instrument that feels like a universal wish to take different paths in life. But, of course, this ‘reset button’ is just a mere fancy… or is it? John, uninspired by conventional options, decides to take the next best route: faking his own death. 

The short duration of the production and the intersections of dialogue between well-choreographed and well-sung musical numbers adds to the sense of speed in how John jumps to this conclusion. The motion of the plot progresses by the virtue of his ill-mannered choices, making a delightful watch as he jumps from one disaster to the next. These ‘jumps’ are very quick springs – I almost wanted more time to feel like the plot points were fleshed out rather than quick interactions. Like John’s attempts at romance: before he fakes his death, he has a meet-cute with a woman named Greta on his way to the psychiatrist’s office. There are some witty lines, Greta’s confidence, John’s fumbling attraction… they say they’ll meet again, but their initial encounter was so brief that I didn’t get a sense of who Greta was, other than her ability as a device to make John make another bad decision. At the end of a few scenes I was left wondering ‘is that it?’

The musical elements of the production were easily the most impressive, and got stronger as the play went on. It was also refreshing to have a musical that doesn’t rely on the conventional optimism of dream-chasing that always goes well; the idiot-plot-esque entertainment of Dead Man’s Suitcase meant it was unique. The construction of the tracklist for the show gave some excellent one-liners: the psychiatrist was a stereotypical Freudian fanboy, and it was so much fun to hear the lyric: ‘I can help you before you actually fuck your mum’ as John tries to plead that his problems are much more mundane. John’s wife, Mary (played by Eva Bailey) was a powerhouse with her singing voice and excellent delivery, the solo in the song ‘For Once in My Life’ blowing me away. 

The cast is a revolving one. The actors for Mary and Greta (Eliana Kwok) stay the same, but the actors for John and his friend/accomplice Paul change. John is shared by George Vyvan and Tom Freeman, whilst Paul is played by Chris Goodwin on some nights and Tom Freeman on others. The cast and crew also include a lot of first years, so it was really nice to see new talent emerging. 

As John’s plan to reinvent his life progresses, it steadily becomes clear that it isn’t going to work out as he hoped. But telling you how his bad choices play out would make the play boring – since the musical is showing until Saturday of 8th week, it makes a nice end to the term. All in all, it was a refreshing, unique musical showcasing new talent on the Oxford scene – it’ll be interesting to see where Triple Cheque Productions goes next.