Death By Chocolate

Death By Chocolate
By Paul Freed. Richmond Players, NSW. By arrangement with ORiGiN Theatrical, on behalf of Samuel French Inc. – A Concord Theatricals Company. Directed by Penelope Johnson. May 4, 11, 18, 25, 2024

Death by Chocolate is an ideal production for a community theatre group to present.  Mystery and mirth, a single setting with a clever design, OTT characters for actors of varying levels of experience to get their teeth into and a script jam packed with one-liners – corny and politically incorrect in equal measure – making for a fun and entertaining night at the theatre.

Richmond Players, performing at the Richmond School of Arts, are based in the Hawkesbury area on the outskirts of Sydney.  There is a touch of nostalgia to the buildings and the streets as you drive into town.  It was easy to imagine I was heading to the Meadowbrook Health Resort!

So, the scene was set for the opening show of this ‘80s comedy set in the office of Lady Riverdale, new owner of the Meadowbrook Health Resort, following the untimely and mysterious death of Henry Meadowbrook.

As a first time Director, Penelope Johnson had the task ahead of her.  The script is not easy to navigate and there is no doubt the dialogue doesn’t always hit the mark in these enlightened times.  Full marks to her for steering her cast and getting the best out of them.

Lady Riverdale (Emma Taite) is anxious and excited about the imminent grand opening of the new and improved resort and her assistant, Dyslexia (Tahlia Ransley) is doing her utmost to keep Lady R calm and focused.  No easy task when this highly strung woman knows only too well her secret past may be revealed to all by the dastardly Ralph Deadwood (Martin Crew). Taite pranced around the stage, brandishing a riding crop to great effect, issuing demands and instructions to the hapless Dyslexia played with nervous energy and a suitable level of frustration by Ransley.  Martin Crew’s Deadwood was played with all the stereotypical nastiness you’d expect and the snide remarks and insults brought groans, moans and guffaws from the audience.  Crew played the audience like a fiddle!  Not to be outdone, John Stone (Joel Baltaks) gave as good as he got and used and abused the fourth wall to perfection.

Margaret Daniels, played by Heloise Tolar, is on the prowl determined to get the scoop on the murderous events at the resort.  Tolar ruled the roost with her tough persona and gritty attitude.  Overseeing all that goes on is Alfred Mellox, played in an understated manner by Michael Niccol. Lovers of comedy thrillers would immediately keep Alfred under close scrutiny – suspicious of where this is all heading.

Of course, no ‘80s Health Resort would be complete without an Aerobics instructor; enter Dick Simmering (James McLanders) – he of the obvious wig, fluoro gym wear and mincing manner.  It is worth mentioning McLanders is the Stage Manager for this production, so kudos to him for managing the show on and off stage.

Chef Edith Chiles (Sally Winsor) bursts into the scene and brings a lot of humour and personality to some tense situations.  Her larger-than-life persona was wonderful and her performance demonstrated the fact there are no small parts in a play.  The Late Henry Meadowbrook’s daughter, Sweet Pea (Anthea Brown) is eating her way through her mourning period.  Seen as something of a thorn in the side of everything Lady Riverdale is trying to achieve at the resort, Alfred appears to be her only ally.  Brown retained her dignity and gained the sympathy of the audience when cruel jokes and insults were spat her way by Stone and Deadwood.  Lisa Hardwidge played the pill popping Resort Nurse with a perfect blend of wide-eyed innocence and vague disinterest, while the arrival of mystery writer, Ed Parlor, played superbly by Peter Phan brings energy and urgency to the stage as we approach the final reveal and solve the mystery of who has been on a murderous rampage at the Meadowbrook Health Resort.

The set, designed by Steven Wimmer is attractive and functional, complete with a secret door, and makes excellent use of what seems to be a relatively small space.

Resources, human and otherwise, are a little slim on the ground at Richmond, so it was great to see acknowledgement in the program of support offered by other community theatre groups.  It’s what community theatre is all about.

Annette Snars

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