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Richmond Players: Death by Chocolate – Review by Nicole Smith



Death by Chocolate is a delectable theatrical treat that tantalises the taste buds while delivering a killer performance on stage. Filled with twists and turns, Director Penny Johnson has served up one decadent dessert and leaves the audience craving more.

 

At the heart of Death by Chocolate is the titular confectionary creation that serves as both a prop and a metaphor throughout the play. Much like a sinful slice of chocolate, this production is indulgent, nutty, and impossible to resist. The way the characters interact with the chocolate mirrors a world of sweet temptation and bitter betrayal; one amongst them is a cold-blooded murderer! 

 

The ensemble cast delivers performances as layered and as a chocolate truffle, but the leading lady is Emma Taite as the owner of ‘Lady Riverdale Chocolates’ and a Health Resort. She is a femme fatale with a taste for business. Taite drips her in a blend of charm, sass, boss lady and questionable sophistication (riding crop included), much like a smooth ganache, but with a dark and mysterious core beneath the surface.

 


Opposite Taite is the Joel Baltaks as John Stone. His comical timing and deadpan puns are as irresistible as a box of fine chocolates, drawing the audience in with every well-timed line as the Manager and amateur sleuth. Nobody knows how he got either role. 

 

The aforementioned Health Resort is filled with an array of questionable characters.  Ralph Deadwood (Martin Crew) is as slimy as they get as gym manager and all-around cad with a hidden agenda. Crew’s Deadwood is the Turkish Delight of the chocolate world. Everyone wonders why he is there, and most seem to dislike him. Crew relishes in a role like this, playing a scoundrel to chef’s kiss perfection. 


Butler Alfred Mellox (Michael Niccol) could have stepped out of a film noir set with his mysterious appearances, reappearances, and gruff responses. He, along with Sweet Pea (the deceased former owner's daughter played by Anthea Brown), are all that remains of the former staff and family. Niccol is excellent as the reserved and exemplary butler, while Brown plays the layered grief-stricken snacking Sweet Pea to a tea. 

 

Rounding out the resident staff at the Health Resort are Dick Simmering (James Mclanders), who embodies the quintessential 80’s aerobics instructor in all his Fluro with cheerleader peppiness. Also, watch Dyslexia – (Tahlia Ransley) as Lady Riverdale’s long-suffering secretary who can hold her own. Ransley’s facial expressions are a joy to watch. Supporting staff Anne (Lisa Hardwidge) as the pill-popping resort nurse and Edith Chiles (Sally Winsor) as the doomed Celebrity Chef relish in their roles and are wonderful to watch.


Visiting the resort pre opening are Margaret Daniels (Heloise Tolar) who captures the essence of a determined and cunning tabloid journalist determined to get the scoop; she is bold and brash appearing at every twist and turn, while Ed Parlor (Peter Phan) is the writer immersing himself perhaps a little too enthusiastically into the sweetness of murder. These two balance each other with their own agenda for scandalous literature. Phan delivers some hilarious moments parodying the plot and making the play self-aware. Yes, it’s meant to be confusing, and the audience ate every crumb. 


The staging of Death by Chocolate is a feast for the eyes, with a detailed single-set design. The proceedings are set in the manager's office, reminiscent of an old-world drawing room complete with a chaise and hidden room which sets the scene for the drama and comedy to unfold. The lighting design also adds to the eerie mood of the scene, leaning heavily in blue and purple, casting shadows into the corners.


Johnson makes sure Each scene is carefully choreographed, like a delicate truffle crafted by a master chocolatier, with every movement and gesture serving a purpose in the larger narrative, which is no easy feat given the stage size and a cast of 11 at times sharing the small stage. 


I particularly enjoyed the 80’s costume nostalgia including bright colourful fluoro to padded shoulders and cinched in waists. The mullets on the men, big hair and Crew’s slicked fringe made me cringe with delight.


Death by Chocolate is a theatrical confection that delights the senses. With performances as rich and nuanced as a molten lava cake and puns as free flowing as a chocolate fountain, this production is fun for anyone with a taste for comedy iced with drama and a hunger for a whodunnit. Indulge your theatrical palate and prepare to be swept away on a tide of dark and delicious emotion. 

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