Chances are we’ve all experienced the questionable culinary decisions people make when having guests round for dinner, but how many of us can actually say that we’ve been to “the worst dinner party in the world”?
Bompas & Parr are attempting to lay claim to this prestigious title with their latest project – an immersive theatre-cum-dining experience based on one of Roald Dahl’s most famous tales, The Twits.
Produced in collaboration with Les Enfants Terribles, ebp and Creature of London, Dinner at the Twits is centred around a banquet held by Mr and Mrs Twit at their horrid home.
As well as munching on a slice of bird pie or fishing the glass eye from their cocktail, people will also be able to explore the Twits’ Ghastly Garden and Windowless House, set in the underground chamber of The Vaults in Waterloo, London.
We speak to set designer, Sam Wyer, to find out all of the deliciously disgusting details.
Design Week: Why did you and the producers decide to move the story on from Roald Dahl’s original work?
Sam Wyer: One of the problems of developing The Twits as a performance is that the book’s success lies in its focus on these spiteful vignettes between Mr and Mrs Twit. They are wonderfully delicious, but as a performance they don’t further a linear story.
The major advantage of what we’re doing as an immersive performance, is that we can reference these in my sets, and give the whole show an exploratory nature. With the added sensory elements of food and drink, we can enhance and continue to thicken the audience experience of the story during intervals in performance.
DW: Why did you decide to use The Vaults as the venue?
SW: One of the most brilliant parts of working at a space like The Vaults, which I’ve done several times before with Les Enfants Terribles, is the architectural features and textures all around you.
The darkness and dinginess of the space is like being locked in a dungeon. This gives me lots of opportunity to play with colour and darkness, which adds to that dingy world of the Twits.
DW: What are Mr and Mrs Twit’s role within the production?
SW: Mr and Mrs Twit are your hosts, somewhat suspiciously renewing their wedding vows. As well as performing scenes, they will approach your table during courses and talk to you as your host might.
This is a great opportunity for me as a designer. Their richness comes through not only in the way they behave, but I can also treat them as walking scenery. You’re up close and personal with really lovely, rich, revolting design.
DW: How did you incorporate a sense of occasion into the set design, given that Mr and Mrs Twit are renewing their wedding vows?
SW: I found certain ways to beautify the grottiness and grotesqueness. This could be typified in the garden scene, for instance, where the guests enjoy the entrees and cocktails.
Mr and Mrs Twit’s brutalist, incredibly unfriendly garden – full of thistles and nettles – will also be decked in barbed wire (to keep all the nosey nasty kiddies out).
But to make it a feature that lifts people’s experience, and connects it to those fantastical experiences at decadent parties, I’m incorporating fairy lights into the barbed wire, to emphasise the duality of beauty and horridness.
DW: How does Dinner at the Twits differ from some of your previous collaborations with Les Enfants Terribles, such as Alice’s Adventures Underground?
SW: Whilst we have been able to incorporate lots of skills and lessons gained from immersive theatre that we have created before, the main difference with this production is the integration of food.
That’s especially pertinent when the audience are given the opportunity to explore their environment and discover the food, such as the edible wormery, scraping through the compost heap to discover beautiful eggs to eat, and the various tonics and potions that Mr and Mrs Twit have set aside.
One of the challenges is differentiating the edible items from the inedible items and giving our audience enough discovery, without them ending up chewing the scenery.
DW: What do you want people to take away from the production?
SW: The writers, Oliver Lansley and Antony Spargo, and director, Emma Earle have broken down the action to allow people to enjoy their food without having to focus on large swathes of performance. This gives the kind of intervals that allow people to converse, laugh and chat as you might do if you were reading the book with somebody.
Guests are encouraged to interact with the spaces, such as the Ghastly Garden, to find all of the delicious treats, bringing to life one of Dahl’s most repulsive stories. We want people to feel like they have stepped into the story from their childhood imaginings where they can meet the characters and visit the places.
For me, the chance to tell this story for adults doesn’t change the approach greatly, as Dahl writes for all ages, but the chance to relish a little more in the darker imagery from the book is wonderful. Expect another sticky end!
Dinner at the Twits will run at The Vaults in Waterloo from 4 September to 30 October. Visit twitsdinner.com for more details.