Dinner at the Twits review – Dahl's ghastly couple dish up cordon bleurgh

The Vaults, London
Rodent goujons and nettle cocktails are on the entertainingly monstrous menu but this immersive theatre show is far from filling

In the Ghastly Garden a troupe of skittish clown-monkeys, or Muggle-Wumps, are serving sting-and-tonic nettle cocktails and canapes including sky rodent goujons (pigeon) and aural scratchings (pigs’ ears). Beneath a tree festooned with fairy lights, we pick at stilton-and-pineapple chunks on nails instead of cocktail sticks. Watch out, too, for something nasty in the woodshed: a tin of “glue” that turns out to be soup.

Dinner theatre may have let out its last burp decades ago but plate and performance have recently been reunited in immersive productions such as Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience. In Dinner at the Twits, Les Enfants Terribles (who were last in this dank venue with Alice’s Adventures Underground) invite us to celebrate as Roald Dahl’s most repugnant creations renew their wedding vows. The effect is best described as cordon bleurgh.

From the Ghastly Garden, we’re led into a long stone hall to sit at banquet tables while the Twits mount a tiny stage at the far end. Mr Twit is a booming brute who could pass for Hagrid’s less presentable brother; Mrs Twit looks as if she’s been dragged through her husband’s beard backwards. As the unhappy couple, Chris Barlow and Lizzy Dive invest their music-hall rapport with an even mix of fond and foul.

The Muggle-Wumps Rollo (Tom Moores), Booble (James Keningale) and Yollo (Alice Bounce).
The Muggle-Wumps: Rollo (Tom Moores), Booble (James Keningale) and Yollo (Alice Bounce). Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

It’s a truism that most waiters are aspiring actors, but here the performers playing the Muggle-Wumps get to pursue both careers simultaneously. When they aren’t imploring us to liberate them, they dish up imaginative grub from the food designers Bompas & Parr, such as Mr Twit’s Bird Pie, garnished with a single saluting chicken’s foot, and garish parsley liquor that bubbles away sinisterly like Dr Jekyll’s nightcap.

What action there is gets decanted into the space between courses, so the dialogue never has to compete too hard with the clatter of cutlery – not that it would matter in a production that cherishes the rough-hewn. If anything, it could be rougher still, as some of the interaction between actors and audience is a touch timid. When Mr Twit shook some “mud” (in fact, a kind of aniseed crumb) over my spuds, it made me think how much further the production could go. Imagine if we were forced to pick food from his beard or if Mrs Twit popped out her glass eye and passed it around the table.

The dramatic ending, involving some ambitious puppetry, puts the space to good use while a cannonball trick reminds us why the evening is expressly not for children. This is really a riff on Dahl rather than an adaptation in the manner of Enda Walsh’s show last year for the Royal Court. Nevertheless, it was tempting to be a bit Oliver Twist and ask for seconds from the writer Anthony Spargo and the director Emma Earle. No complaints about the meat on our plates – but a bit more in the production itself wouldn’t have gone amiss.

• At the Vaults, London, until 30 October. Box office: 0844 248 1215.

Contributor

Ryan Gilbey

The GuardianTramp

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