by the Therry Dramatic Society.
What’s the Story?
The owner of a health resort is shot dead, then made to look like it was an accident. His replacement finds a box of chocolates on his desk and, when people eat them, they die. Looks like it’s up to this wacky cast of characters to work out whodunnit!
What’s the Problem?
I forget his name and the internet isn’t the sort of place to go “looking things up”, but the main character has too many joke lines. I’d call them funny lines, but they’re not often funny. They’re lines that are supposed to be jokes, but the audience feels like it’s drowning under the sheer volume of them. Every second line of his is a half-aside to the audience or some quip that doesn’t advance the story.
And when your main character seems to be going out of his way to delay the story, it makes for a tedious time.
Especially when, as here, the author hasn’t decided what they want the character to be. He can either be canny and aware that he’s making fun (that the audience laughs with) or he can be an idiot who has no idea that he’s said something offensive (that the audience laughs at). He can’t be both. And he certainly can’t swap between both within the space of one line. It doesn’t work. He comes across as having no character, just a series of jokes.
And when you sigh inside whenever the main character opens his mouth (Oop – here he goes with another hilarious quip!) then something is wrong.
In addition to Captain Plot-Halter we have Private The-Writer. Toward the end of the first act, a character comes on who is a writer. Specifically, he’s a play writer who writes murder mysteries. He then outlines that he’s there to do research for an upcoming play called… wait for it… Death by Chocolate!
He also outlines what would have happened by now in his play and what would happen next. All these things, of course, come to pass.
Why is he there? He doesn’t advance the story much and he’s clearly – and constantly – breaking the fourth wall. Just when the audience might be getting the hang of the play, it changes tack and becomes self-aware and horribly self-referential.
It gets better (or worse) in the second act where he and Main Character take on the roles of investigators to interrogate all the suspects using techniques The Writer has used in past plays. By this stage, it almost seems to have passed through “annoying, cliche’d, and over-used” and come out the other side as interesting. Few stories will take the writer-within-the-story thing this far. So maybe I should applaud it for that.
The Supporting Cast
We don’t have enough time with the supporting cast to get a clear idea of their lives or possible motives for murder, so we can’t spend the play guessing whodunnit. When it’s finally revealed, the murderer has to spend the whole scene explaining what they’re doing and why, because otherwise the audience wouldn’t have a single clue.
It’s set in a health club. There was probably a good deal of comedic material there to work with: making fun of various people who come to a health resort and why. This play explores none of that. It could just as easily have taken place in an accountant’s office. The setting made no difference to the piece, so why was it chosen?
The Penultimate Scene
should have been the final scene. The actual final scene added nothing at all to the play.
I don’t know who would like this play. Many people in the audience seemed to enjoy it and laugh, but from a writing perspective it was pretty terrible. The jokes were obvious and usually not that funny, the setting was irrelevant to the plot, the characters were inconsistent in their intelligence (and thus hard to empathise with or believe in), and the murderer’s motivation could not be guessed prior to the final scene (making the murder feel unconnected to the story).