A Dinner to Die For, part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, is a very specific type of show that will appeal to quite a few, but not all, festival goers this year.
In the tradition of the murder-at-the-English-country house narratives à la Agatha Christie and all of those derived from it, Bare Elements Productions puts on a chaotic, funny, borderline too cheesy, camp crime drama that strives to include the audience –who are all given roles to play – in the action.
The show takes place predominantly in the function room at The Retreat hotel in Abbotsford, a gorgeous little pub that was used as a set for the classic Australian soap The Sullivans (a little before my time, unfortunately, but copiously referenced in The Late Show, which was definitely during my time). From the moment you walk through the door you are greeted by a throng of punters dressed in their best, or closest to, twenties period gear, name tags blazing and ready to go. It is the audience that is the most unpredictable part of the evening: a certain amount of enthusiasm needs to be created and maintained, so don’t bring your grumpy friends, or you’ll regret it.
The cast of seven have varying abilities to hold a room that is being distracted by the dinner and drinks and plotlines that are firing across it. The most successful of this was the McDaventry/Braithwaite Ramsey characters/actor, who served as a sort of narrator, and therefore needed to be able to command attention. Lord Daventry gave a more subtle performance, a vehicle to pad out the story a little more, but you had to work harder to get information out of him.
You cannot get anywhere near a sense of complete consistency, let alone period consistency, when you are directing, cajoling and reacting to thirty increasingly lubricated diners, all with various abilities at participation. The actors involved did a stellar job of making the guests feel they could contribute to the story, put on silly accents, make silly quips and double entendres, and generally throw themselves into the night. By the end most of the audience was participating in sing-alongs and catchphrases, seaside concert hall style.
That being said little niggling details could have been fixed up to make a more cohesive late 1920’s atmosphere, most glaringly to me was the music chosen; very hot jazz that seemed out of context. But I suppose the delicious parma that I was eating would therefore had been disqualified as well, and I wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice that.
In short, bring friends to this event, but only ones that are willing to play. Those there on the night who were obviously dragged there, stuck out of a group of patrons who wanted to do something a little different with their dinner out.
Date: 27 March – 10 April
Duration: 180 minutes
Venue: The Retreat Hotel *
226 Nicholson St, Abbotsford
* Licensed venue. Under 18s must be accompanied by a Parent or Legal Guardian.
Prices: Dinner and Show $80
Bookings: Venue Bookings 03 9417 2693