The Man Who Wouldn’t Be Murdered, by Lily Blundell, is based on the true story of Michael Malloy (Jude Ashcroft), an alcoholic in prohibition-era New York who became the target of speakeasy-owner Tony Morino’s (Jamie Ellis) plot. It’s the sort of fact that ends up being stranger than fiction, as Morino attempts repeatedly to murder his regular customer in order to cash in a hefty life-insurance policy.
This production, directed by Izzy Grout, takes on the grizzly story with a dark humour that is able to build and undercut tension masterfully throughout the show’s 55-minute runtime. One of this show’s many achievements is its success in blending comedy with what is fundamentally a very dark and disturbing story: Blundell’s script is able to keep certain key moments respectfully sombre, while making use of quick one-liners and character comedy (performed particularly well by Aisha Wheatley as the Barman) to ensure that there were consistent changes in the tone and tempo of the show that kept the audience engaged and entertained throughout, making us feel a wide range of emotions.
The score, also composed by Blundell, was fantastic. With a wide range of jazzy songs: from the smooth, dark introduction to quicker-paced pieces, such as the song introducing the bar itself, it carried the audience along with help from choreography by Charlotte Dargan and Aisha Wheatley. The slick choreography is particularly impressive, considering the show’s mere ten days of rehearsal time. Each piece was performed flawlessly by the incredibly talented one-man-band, Drew Sellis, on the piano. My favourite song by far, though they were all fantastic, was the song welcoming Morino and his accomplices to the life insurance company.
Performances from Marie-Ange Camara, Kate South and Isabel May were particularly impressive here, with each singer doing justice to the piece’s beautiful harmonies. Camara in particular stands out as a highly gifted performer, her depiction of Death was smoothly evil, and the character’s twisted delight in witnessing the suffering of Malloy and Morino was made evident. Camara also has a fantastic and powerful voice, which wowed the audience in the very first song.
Sam Porter-Frakes’ lighting design was also impressive, given the limited resources available in the small theatre. Making use of large arrays of LEDs, the lighting rig washed the stage in broad colours that matched the mood of each scene: Morino’s wife Josephine (Annie Stedman) is bathed in purple as she pours out her grief and sadness at her husband’s dark behaviour, while Death’s presence onstage is accompanied with a blood-red wash. The set (designed by Grout and Blundell), like the lighting, is simplistic but effective. The events of the show take place on a black stage with a black background, coloured by some stools and a white table. The production also reaches into the audience as Death often sits at the sidelines, a dark and permanent presence that we can never quite shake.
This show was a must-see. The Man Who Wouldn’t Be Murdered sent chills down my spine one minute and had the audience wetting themselves with laughter the next. It benefits from a short runtime in that it very much leaves the audience wanting more action, rather than dragging on for a couple of scenes too long. I would wholeheartedly recommend this show, which made a great and hugely entertaining night out and I hope to have the opportunity to watch it again soon.
The Man Who Wouldn’t Be Murdered played from the 16th to the 20th of August 2022 at the Lion & Unicorn as part of the Camden Fringe.
Text by Macsen Brown