The Vaults, under the rail lines of Waterloo station, is a perfect venue for Death Suits You. The audience enters a long, cellar like tunnel, with the benches and stage in the middle, to create an empty space either side. It’s reminiscent of those infinite white rooms that appear in films, where someone is about to meet their maker. The protagonist, (or antagonist?), is at work as the audience enters, sorting through files at a white desk on an otherwise empty stage.
The play begins with the awkward and shy Death (Sam Hooper) introducing himself. He’s quick to assure us that it’s not our time (yet) since that’s what people normally think when meeting him. He slowly pulls documents out of the file, and some of the individuals he’s killed are revealed. The art and precision it takes to plan someone’s death is explained, like timing a joke perfectly as someone takes a bite of food, to allow for them to choke.
He recounts specific examples, beginning with amusing innocuous details about their life, and issues he’s had to introduce from childhood to prepare for the long term; for instance, a binge eating disorder introduced in the teen years that leads to the downfall of a marriage. As expected, they end in tragedy, some genuinely moving and others with self-aware flare for the dramatic (sometimes a lover’s quarrel requires a thunderstorm outside.)
After each story, there is a beautiful display of artistic expression, whether it be a song, dance or poetry. Sam Hooper is an incredibly talented writer and performer, captivating the audience for the show’s entirety. In these moments of expression, Death distances himself from his usual quick-witted audience interactions and ‘becomes’ those he’s killed, artistically depicting a drowning through a movement sequence, or illustrating a tragic death through inspiring poetry.
He is accompanied by a musician who plays guitar, piano and percussion to bring the stories to life. He’s also accompanied by the symphony of thundering trains above, which adds to the gloomy purgatory-like atmosphere for the show.
Death oscillates between pride in the many unique ways he has ended someone’s life, and recognition that his job isn’t understood or appreciated. Hooper makes the audience laugh about death, both the past and what we have to look forward to in the future (big plans with global warming). Despite this, the tragedy and loss that can lead up to death, especially that of a child or suicide, is not overlooked. With great empathy, he describes some vicious cycles people find themselves in, uncomfortably reminding the audience of how people are often victims of circumstance.
Switching between the comedic and sombre tones of this show so quickly and frequently in the space of the hour is a risk, but it is clear that whilst this is a dark comedy we are not laughing directly at the tragedies. Hooper successfully walks a fine line between the two moods, carefully balancing melancholy with laughter, and crafting a very enjoyable yet moving show.
Although there is little storyline, each anecdote includes some narrative that tells us more about Death as we go along. The show concludes with Death reminding us to live life to the fullest, without delay, not that we have had the chance to see some things from their perspective. He ends positively, on the note that even when everybody else has forgotten us, we will be immortalised in his memories.
Written by: Sam Hooper
Directed by: Gabrielle Scawthorn
Composed by: Robert Tripolino
Death Suits You plays as part of VAULT Festival 2023 until 10 February.