Bereavement: The Musical

Thu 9th – Mon 27th August 2012


Emma Yandle

at 09:18 on 11th Aug 2012



What do you want from a musical on an odd topic? A fad of the last couple of years, the successful ones have had a command of bathos, taking you from sublime moments to ridiculous ones and then rolling them both into a hilariously shocking number. I imagined this would be the aim of ‘Bereavement: the Musical’, with its tagline ‘Bereavement is a song and dance. Watch people singing and dancing about it.’ With the cast racking up three dead mums, a sister, a dad and a husband, there was plenty to sing about, but the numbers ranged between hilarious and blandly emotive. I was left wondering if it wanted to be a comedic or serious musical and whilst it’s normal for shows to have their happy and sad moments, I can’t help feeling it would have been an incredible production if it had just stuck to the former.

The three funny numbers, 'I Don't Need Therapy', 'Is It Wrong To Have A Wank?' and 'Death Card' alone were worth a ticket, all wonderfully jarring the audience by making absurd ideas pertinent to the topic of bereavement. They stand up in comparison to 'Hairspray' and were damn catchy. Yet the moving songs woven in just didn't hit the standard the others set. With a number about single parenthood following one on wanking, I was confusedly waiting for a punch-line that didn’t come. The problem with these songs was that they all seemed to work on the same formula: some were hit and some more miss. James Lanaghan’s solo 'She's Not Always On My Mind' stood out as a tune I’d want on my iPod, but the rest were neither musically earth-shattering or particularly emotionally wrought. Sometimes I felt like the actors themselves didn't know if they were trying to make you laugh or cry in a song, as their faces switched from joy to pain.

It is certainly really impressive that students Jeff Carpenter and Máirín O’Hagan wrote an entire musical. As well as composing the score, Carpenter accompanied the entire production on the piano and is clearly a consummate performer. I got the feeling that someone who is probably a very talented composer was treading the boards, with lots of numbers falling back on musical theatre standards and sometimes an odd mixture of different themes and styles. He shone in numbers such as the aforementioned ‘Death Card’ with it’s honky tonk accompaniment easily comparable to ‘Chicago’. Some numbers were a bit more Disney, not that that’s necessarily a criticism. The singing itself ranged from impressive, with Rosie Brown standing out, to fine, to some off notes.

‘Bereavement’ was at its best as a tongue-in-cheek musical, but let down by some unremarkable sentimental numbers. It really was the 'funny little cabaret' the first song called grief. However, it performed to a packed house and despite my criticisms is well worth a watch.


Claire Dalling

at 09:44 on 11th Aug 2012



Five minutes into ‘Bereavement: The Musical’, as smoke started coming from my pen and my writing became increasingly incoherent, I realised that I was trying to write down every single line that was sung. Each single lyric is infinitely quotable, such is the wit and intelligence that literally drips from the original, student-written score. It is so deliciously clever that I found myself sitting forward in my seat, in the hope of ‘catching’ some of the spare brainpower. The Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society’s performance is as astute and artistic as the writing, producing a musical that left me wanting more, and proving that black is indeed the new black.

But let’s start with the script. There are many shows at the Fringe, and indeed in the world, which give themselves ridiculous and obscure titles in a vain attempt to stand out while flyering on the Royal Mile or advertising on the Internet. Although ‘Bereavement’ may initially seem to fall into this category, it quickly becomes clear that this is a well thought through concept which, quite frankly, should be available on the NHS. Writes Jeff Carpenter and Máirín O’Hagan tackle the “funny little cabaret” that occurs after the death of a loved one, from the awkward post-funeral small talk, to the guilt experienced due to not constantly thinking about the deceased, via the heart-rendering conundrum of what to tell children, finally concluding that no one really knows the correct way in which to act. This is, however, a musical song-cycle and not a musical. Although there are a few recurring characters, there is no definite plot. The comic and touching seamlessly combine to create a Tarantino-esque effect, whereby the audience is constantly pulled between poles of amusement and anguish.

CUMTS could easily have performed any conventional Broadway musical, and probably received rave reviews. This is a group of six bright and gifted performers who act and sing as well as any Fringe cast I have seen. And the fact that they have taken a risk with this production makes them all the more appealing. They exude confidence, but are unafraid to show true vulnerability, and this perfectly captures the staggering mix of emotions experienced while grieving. Apart from the odd waywardly pitched sustained note, the singing was flawless, with harmonies that made me sigh contentedly. Rosie Brown’s voice is particularly impressive: clear and robust without being overwhelming. I also love that director Andy Brock has allowed James Lanaghan to simply sit still and sing his solo, without pointlessly pacing or make ‘expressive’ gestures. But the fantastic thing about CUMTS is that every single member of the cast has something unique to contribute. Martha Bennett has two of the most expressive eyes I’ve ever seen; Jess Peet allows the audience to be fooled by her innocent exterior before quickly reducing them to tears. Will Karani is somehow both slightly crass and endearing; and Joey Akubeze’s amazingly animated face is simply mesmerizing.

However, the real star of the show is sitting at the piano. Jeff Carpenter is Bereavement’s co-writer, musical director and pianist – he is so extraordinarily talented that he makes me feel simultaneously jealous, inadequate and inspired.

‘Bereavement: The Musical’ is both humorous and human, bravely confronting social taboos while remaining sensitive towards the subject matter. This is so much more than just a curious title, and a show that I whole-heartedly recommend.


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