Reviewed by Lucy Ross
Kicking off 2022, New Theatre has launched a season called ‘Brand New’ – premiering unpublished and unproduced scripts to a wider audience. This is a fantastic initiative to give new Australian plays a platform to jump off and it’s truly exciting to see where this could go.
The Chocolate Roster is one of these aforementioned fresh plays written by Brooke Robinson; set in the fictional town of Dorewick NSW, we follow the lives of some select town residents dealing with the unspeakable grief of losing a child to suicide.
The set, designed by Verica Nikolic, was simple yet effective. It had incredible detail, with the local signed sports shirt on the wall which had the texture of well-worn timber. We were very certain of the world we were entering into.
We begin by seeing Toni, played by Annette Van Roden, enter and carefully assemble an enormous pile of chocolate. This chocolate, ever present and consistently eaten as a part of the performance, serves as an intelligent symbolic device. Always being reached for by characters looking to fill their void of sadness with a small piece of sweet joy.
This play addressed some very serious subject matter, and the cast certainly served this text with the utmost respect and authenticity.
Annette Van Roden’s performance of Toni had charm and wit, but had a certain ominous feeling to it – like she was a bomb about to go off. She was fabulous at letting her emotions come to the surface, only to slam the lid firmly down on them immediately.
Heather Pitt, who played Jane, provided a calm and comforting energy amongst the cast – she was almost the glue holding everyone together.
Our comic relief Eliza, played by Amy Victoria Brooks, and Carl, played by Atharav Kolhatkar, did incredibly well serving their roles in the piece while also portraying a serious understanding for what is going around them.
However, the stand out performance has to be Susan Jordan, who played the role of Caroline. Her portrayal was raw, vulnerable and utterly devastating - she surrendered completely to the character and showed us a rich tapestry of emotion.
The story of The Chocolate Roster is one that is important to be told. Hearing mothers bear their souls and their experiences of their children taking their own lives is heartbreaking, and more than worthy of being explored in theatre.
This play could be described as an incredibly upsetting collection of vignettes, as we go on the journey of learning and discovering more about these fascinating people. We are shown, through these characters, all the different ways people deal with grief and loneliness. It did seem that Jane’s way, of keeping herself constantly busy with community activities to escape, was accidentally glorified as the “right way” to grieve, when the intention was possibly to portray that there is no right way.
Additionally, the script seemed to explore the themes similar to the character of Toni herself would. It felt like whenever we were about to delve very deep emotionally or a character was about to experience something interesting, the tension would be broken with comedy and we were left just scratching the surface. Of course, humour is an important element to include in subject matter this serious – but in this case laughter got in the way of any tears.
The characters were well written and fleshed out – however, they didn’t have a particularly big arc. Many of them finish the play in the same place they started – no lessons learned or transformation occurring. There were some beautiful individual moments in this play, but it lacked through line and didn’t have the emotional hit it potentially should have.
Theatre is supposed to about pushing the envelope and opening ourselves up to new unexplored ideas, and The Chocolate Roster certainly shows that promise. With this play you will get a peep into the absolute tragedy of losing a child and the effect it has on their families. It is a story we need to hear, portrayed in a raw and authentic manner.
Be prepared to have this play stick in your heart.