Dinner with the Twits
By GEORGE BERRIDGE
“What a lot of hairy-faced men there are around nowadays.” As I walk through south London on my way to Dinner with the Twits, I can't help admiring how well the first line of Roald Dahl's children’s classic has worn.
Somewhere below Waterloo, in the ominously named Vaults, the gruesome pair are hosting a banquet. The event has been created by Les Enfants Terribles, the theatre company behind the wildly successful Alice’s Adventures Underground, and Bompas & Parr, popular jelly experts and creators of such bizarre gastronomic novelties as last year’s Alcoholic Architecture, a misty room under Borough Market where you could stand and breathe in one drink’s worth of booze, and The 200 Club, a £2,000, 200-course, 24-hour tasting menu. I pick up my ticket and drop my things at the cloakroom. As I step towards the bar, the attendant calls out: “Good luck”.
We are shepherded into the “Ghastly Garden”, where the audience is left to root around in search of appetizers. I find a pulsating mass of cold spaghetti worms, glue soup, pig ears, Bloody Mary-glazed chicken hearts, and a green quail’s egg lurking in the compost heap. I am not appetized.
Then the Twits arrive, played by Chris Barlow and Lizzy Dive. The pair are enormous, grizzled, grotesque and foul. We are there to celebrate the renewal of their vows, for after all this time, Mr Twit says: “They are very much in luu…”, he gags, “..luuu”, he retches, his cheeks swell “… It’s okay. I swallowed it. Luuuurve”. We enter the banquet hall, where dinner is to be served.
The doors burst open and the Muggle-Wumps (the couple's performing "monkeys") enter, carrying an enormous tower of bird pies. Each is dropped off complete with a roasted talon and a ladle of parsley liquor from a bubbling cauldron. Accompanying this is a plate of “muddied spuds”, buried in dried olives. There’s also a pile of “six-legged slaw” that is, in fact, bugless. And that’s it. Unfortunately, the Dahlian menu descriptions fail to disguise the fact that all of the grub is unremarkable. The only truly Twittish aspect is its miserly meagreness.
As we eat, the story progresses, though interest seems to wane as it becomes clear that the plot, such as it is, has been constructed merely as background entertainment. It is rounded off with an explosive cannon trick, which ends messily for one poor Muggle-Wump, and the arrival of an enormous puppeteered Roly-Poly bird.
The Twits of my school years were created to frighten and entertain children. There is no risk of that at the Dinner. Kids aren’t allowed in. The show is strictly 16+. All of this raises the question: who on earth is this for? The whole experience lasts an hour and a half, of which perhaps there’s really only thirty minutes of acting. The cheapest tickets are £81.50, the most expensive £111.50. That’s a staggering amount to cough up for two courses and some desultory attempts to inspire nostalgia.
When the show ends, we’re returned to the bar. I’m handed one of “Mr Twit’s Dirty Negronis”. The classic cocktail has been altered to include the smoky and very “in” cousin of tequila, mezcal, and a sprinkling of dried mealworms. Back above ground, I appraise. It was a daft and expensive mixture, one that was hard to swallow and left a clinging, bitter taste on the palate. The cocktail, however, was quite good.
In the book, Dahl writes: “If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face”. I’m scared to look in the mirror.