The principal joke of Bereavement: The Musical is neatly contained in its title, and despite evident good intentions and a number of genuinely moving and entertaining sequences, it struggles to expand beyond the central premise to meaningful ends.

In a series of what we might call musical sketches, composers Jeff Carpenter and Mairin O’Hagan and director Andy Brock populate the stage with a parade of characters, each of whom have suffered a bereavement of some kind, and each of whom disclose their predicament with a song.

Andy Brock, Mairin O'Hagan and Jeff CarpenterHelen Cahill

It certainly seems interesting to make a distinction between grief and bereavement in a way that draws attention to the oddly perfunctory nature of social practices surrounding death: we enjoy a hymn detailing the awkward formality of funerals, a refusal to seek counselling from a brilliantly animated Rosie Brown, and a funny and well observed but perhaps laboured song that interrogates the impropriety of a teenager’s need to masturbate, even in the wake of his mother’s death. It is the witty choreography and musical cheek that really earns Bereavement: The Musical its laughs – its slick, self aware mockery of the musical theatre genre through a characterful piano accompaniment and chorus choreography is highly entertaining and makes up for unremarkable melodies.

However, it is in the more contemplative, serious scenes that the endeavour falls down. An overblown meditation on single parenthood and an admission from a bereaved teenager that she is no longer “daddy’s little girl” serve as reminders that, as a genre that trivialises and simultaneously sentimentalises its subject matter, musical theatre isn’t always the appropriate medium in which to address the agony of bereavement.

That’s not to say that the handling of a serious theme in a lighthearted framework is fruitless, but it seems necessary that the tonal dichotomy eventually makes an interesting comment on the material in hand. The final number that declares us to have learnt nothing at all feels unconvincing and a little reductive. Jeff Carpenter, however, who briefly mentions his own bereavement and motivation for composing the musical in a pre-opening night VarsiTV interview, is a touching presence as the accompanist. He remained impressively engaged with the cast members for the duration of the performance.

If the show fails to persuasively convey its primary sensibility, then it is the subtle poignancy of Carpenter’s presence that eventually communicates the amusing, enlivening and intelligent treatment of difficult subject matter that lies at the core of the production.