Tag Archives: Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society

The Man Who Wouldn't Be Murdered

The Man Who Wouldn’t Be Murdered

★★★

Lion and Unicorn Theatre

THE MAN WHO WOULDN’T BE MURDERED at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre

★★★

The Man Who Wouldn't Be Murdered

“there are definitely some musical talents among the cast, and they particularly shine as a chorus”

 

It’s always a bold choice to put on a new musical in a 60-capacity with only a keyboard for accompaniment. But that doesn’t stop the cast of The Man Who Wouldn’t Be Murdered from singing their hearts out.

I had never heard the tale of Michael Malloy before this evening, but writer and composer Lilly Blundell has done well to come upon it because it’s absolutely ripe for a musical farce.

In 1933 America, times are tough, and Michael Malloy (Jude Ashcroft) is drinking Marino’s bar dry when he’s supposed to be the one serving the drinks. So as to save his business, Tony Marino (Jamie Ellis) decides, along with a couple of greedy accomplices, to murder Malloy and collect his life insurance. But, as the name would suggest, despite their best efforts, he will not be killed.

Death (Marie-Ange Camara), tired of the same old stories, finds herself obsessed with Malloy’s murderers and acts as partial narrator and observer. Wanting to see how far they’ll go, she withholds her ultimate power: Therein lies Blundell’s explanation for Malloy’s seeming immortality.

Camara is certainly the star of the show, moving sphynx-like around the would-be murderers as she playfully interferes. She’s a childish psychopath, stomping her feet and yelling “boring!” at the prospect of the human condition, whilst almost salivating at the growing wilfulness of Malloy’s ‘friends’.

There’s a bit of a problem with consistency: the faster paced songs are catchy and cheeky, whereas the slower numbers- a lover’s lament between main murderer Tony Marino and his wife (Annie Stedman), for example- are a bit of a drag, and feel especially long. They might be fine if it were a full-length musical, but given it’s only 55 minutes, I want as much jigging about as possible. Also, it’s a bit tired to have the only female character spend the whole time looking like a hurt bunny, trying to get her man to make sensible choices, and generally dampening the good fun.

With such a small space, it’s hard for the performers to gauge how big they should go, and the result is a bit pitchy. But there are definitely some musical talents among the cast, and they particularly shine as a chorus, splitting harmonies four or five ways, and moving in jaunty tandem. The design is thankfully simple, and further than the use of a drinks trolly, the stage is left mostly empty for the use of the generous cast of eight.

Please excuse me, but I’m about to majorly spoil the ending: Given that in real life Malloy was eventually murdered, it feels a bit bizarre that the story should end so abruptly with another failed attempt, instead focusing on the demise of Marino’s personal life. But it does feel like maybe this is just the first reveal of an idea still in incubation, an excerpt, even, from an as yet unfinished hit musical.

 

Reviewed on 16th August 2022

by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Jonathan Black

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

The Rice Krispie Killer | ★★★★ | August 2021

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Unexpected Item In The Bagging Area

★★

Underbelly Cowgate

Unexpected Item In The Bagging Area

Unexpected Item In The Bagging Area

Underbelly Cowgate

Reviewed – 6th August 2019

★★

 

“talented singers and a few funny lines aren’t enough to save this gawky, uneven show”

 

The Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society is behind some phenomenal recent hits, including Six, and Hot Gay Time Machine. Disappointingly, Unexpected Item in the Bagging Area – composed by Laurence T-Stannard, book and lyrics by Amaya Holman and Jamie Bisping – is not destined to travel the same road to fame. An unintelligible story, undeveloped characters, and cringey humour make this one-hour musical feel very long.

A group of employees at a supermarket deal with each other and their own personal problems while facing an infestation of mice just a few days before the health inspectors arrive. Little do they know, a man who wants the supermarket building for his pet shop is sabotaging them. Relying heavily on clichés, the plot is absolutely daft, and almost entirely nonsensical.

The musical’s title and description imply the comedy will be based on observational humour about supermarkets: all of the exasperating, outrageous, laughable, sob-inducing stuff that goes down in Tesco. Who hasn’t been one “Unexpected item in the bagging area!” away from a total mental breakdown? This play is not that. There are no customers, and no insight into the reality of working at a supermarket. Nothing in the story resembles any real-life experience.

There’s considerable confusion surrounding the characters’ ages. Across the board, the performers’ language, speech patterns, mannerisms, and clothing all suggest teens/early-twenties, which makes it jarring each time they mention their multiple divorces or children. It’s clear the characters were not developed enough to convincingly place them at any particular age, which makes them flat. It’s a question why director Caroline Yu chose not to address age in shaping the performances.

Additionally, because the characters are two-dimensional – based on tropes and without nuance – they’re not very interesting. The dynamics between them are shallow and unimaginative. Karen (Ella Burns) stands out with some good comedic lines about Mary Berry, the Pope, and her cat Prudence.

It’s a shame the majority of the humour is unsophisticated. One particularly miscalculated joke is the shouted line, “I’m Karen and I’m barren!” Another is Sammy (Conor Dumbrell) shooting his mother mid-song. Neither receive much laughter, and why either is meant to be funny is anybody’s guess. The comedy throughout is clumsy and heavy-handed. Sammy reveals his real name is… “Not Lucifer, Luci Fur!” There are a lot of jokes like these that don’t work.

The live band on stage is a nice touch, and the musicians are accomplished. The cast deliver strong vocal performances, but regrettably the songs themselves are unmemorable at best. The fishcake song and the fundraiser quiz song are grating and repetitive. Luci Fur’s villainous plotting song is completely incomprehensible. A story Luci Fur tells with sock puppets, meant to reveal an important twist, is muddled, leaving the resolve of the plot still fairly unclear.

Unfortunately, talented singers and a few funny lines aren’t enough to save this gawky, uneven show. A messy, awkward script with mediocre (and some not very good) songs makes for an hour that will have you checking your watch.

 

Reviewed by Addison Waite

Artwork by Chloe Marschner 

 


Unexpected Item In The Bagging Area

Underbelly Cowgate until 25th August as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019

 

 

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