A sweet tale of revolution

Chocolateria Hysteria

Lichfield Garrick Studio


History is brought to life in a unique and fascinating way in Rachael Pennell's Chocolateria Hysteria. 

Pennell, writer and director of Lucky Fin productions, is gifted in her ability to uncover women of significance in history and imaginatively portray the roles they have played. 

In Chocolateria Hysteria she brings us the compelling story of six very different women living very different lives in France in the late 1700s; a chocolate-maker, a courtesan, the wife of a Girondist activist, the wife of a diplomat, and actress and an aristocratic Liberal who later became the ‘It Girl' of post-revolution France. 

In reality the six women depicted are documented as being instrumental in the French Revolution but their paths did not cross.  However, unleash your imagination for a short while and see how their story pans out.  Coming together for a common purpose; to give women a voice, seeking rights for women, calling for a republic and the unseating of King Louis XVI, they meet in the shadows under the cover of darkness, hidden behind hooded cloaks and in constant fear of discovery. 

There are strong performances from each cast member, Holly Berry, Carrie Hill, Rachael Penell  Louise Sweeney and Rebecca Sidwell but Pennell shines.   

In Act 1 we are cleverly introduced to four diverse characters in beautiful costume fit for the period with their faces hidden behind masks, slowly one-by-one they uncover their faces and we are enlightened as to their characters.  They come together in the Chocolateria owned by Pauline Leon (Louise Sweeney); a meeting house for the rich and privileged during the day and for revolutionaries by night.  The set is minimal; two chairs and a bookcase cleverly set the scene for the chocolate house, plus a small writing table and chair. The dialogue moves at a pace with only a few stumbles, the content is well researched and meaningful.  Pennell's performance is powerful. The revolution comes. The streets run red with blood. 

Act 2 takes us post revolution and counter-revolution and still more unrest follows the death of the King.  Pauline retreats from the movement following the uprising and the barbaric death of one woman as the revolutionaries turn on themselves. 

Manon is almost maniacal in her desperation for bloodshed of the revolution.  But what was it all for? The fortunes of the six change and are again very different, Theroine de Mericourt is imprisoned by Leopold and eventually succumbs to madness brought about by the events that have gone before, the abuse, the men, the abandonment by her brother and the loss of her child and she ends her days incarcerated in an asylum.


Manon's fate lays at the hands of Madame la Guillotine.  Germaine de Stael flees to Britain, Lacombe briefly returns to the stage and Pauline (‘I live for the revolution or I die for the revolution') marries and settles down to married life with children.   She continues to run the chocolate house, but she never forgets the brutal death of the woman or the wonderful Theroine de Mericourt, the courtesan who had taught her so much.   

A particular pleasure lay in store at the interval when we were treated to yummy chocolates courtesy of the production company. But shame on the Garrick hospitality for not having hot chocolate available, the equipment was out of service. 

History is mainly written by men with a man's perspective of the times. Pennell brings history to life from a woman's viewpoint.  She captures our imagination; you dare not drift for a moment such is the fascination of the story.   

It is a pity that there was such a poor turn out. Meanwhile, did you know?  Chocolate was Napoleon's favourite pick-me-up. 18-09-10 

Lynda Ford 

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