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Dinner at the Twits review at the Vaults, London – ‘fittingly grotesque dinner-theatre’

Chris Barlow and Lizzy Dive in Dinner At The Twits at The Vaults. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Roald Dahl’s strange, surreal stories are well suited to the stage. From the long-running successes of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, to perennial favourites like James and the Giant Peach and The BFG, theatremakers relish the opportunity to conjure Dahl’s worlds. The Royal Court had a crack at The Twits in 2015 and now, in his centenary year, Les Enfants Terribles has teamed up with culinary directors Bompas and Parr, creators of jelly cities, gin clouds and food-based installations, to produce a fittingly grotesque dinner theatre experience in the spirit of Dahl.

Dinner at the Twits invites the audience to attend the renewal of the wedding vows of one of Dahl’s most gruesome, spiteful couples. The Twits live in a windowless house overlooking an equally uninviting garden. Retired circus folk, they dream of opening an upside-down monkey circus. In the original novel the monkeys have all been rescued by the Roly-Poly bird, but in Anthony Spargo’s adaptation the monkeys are actually just people who have been kidnapped and forced act like performing monkeys under the threat of death.

As this is one of the few Dahl novels that doesn’t feature children at its heart, it’s ripe for a more darker, more adult adaptation. But while Spargo’s take on the source material is suitably colourful and in keeping with the tone of the original, it’s also fairly slight, with barely enough narrative to fill 90 minutes.

The real star here is the design and Samuel Wyer has filled the space with enough titbits to satisfy the most fervent Dahl fan. The garden is a grim, ramshackle backyard of junk overshadowed by a tree dripping with glue, while the dining room has the fading splendour of a circus, long past its prime.

Wyer’s attention to detail is magnificent, and is something he put to good use on recent immersive productions Alice’s Adventures Underground and The Game’s Afoot. Here his work is complemented, and at times almost overpowered, by the food and drinks menu created by Bompas and Parr.

Dahl’s original story uses food as a form of revenge as the Twits try to out-gross each other, and here the menu forms a major part of the experience. Canapes, including Bloodied Hearts, Aural Scratchings and Mouldy Delight – or chicken, pork and cheese and pineapple – are dotted around the garden for the audience to discover, while nervous looking monkeys act as waiters offering people gin and tonic infused with nettle cordial.

Christopher-Robert Barlow and Lizzy Dive are suitably monstrous as the larger than life couple but they are cartoonish rather than sinister. Ultimately Emma Earle’s production, while full of imaginative touches, lacks any real sense of danger despite its adult-only restriction. I suspect most grown-ups will have as much fun in the Upside Down Cocktail Cavern as in the dining hall.

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Immersive dining experience designed with customary flair but with more drama in the menu than on stage