BWW Interview: Emma Brunjes On Worm Salt and DINNER AT THE TWITS
One of the more unusual entrants in the centenary Dahl celebrations is immersive dining experience Dinner at the Twits at The Vaults, created by Les Enfants Terribles and ebp in association with culinary wizards Bompas & Parr and Creature of London. The gruesome twosome promise to serve up a banquet of deliciously disgusting dishes, from bird pie to beer brewed with yeast swabbed from Dahl's writing chair. Producer Emma Brünjes whets our appetite...
How did the project come about?
We'd collaborated with Les Enfants Terribles on Alice's Adventures Underground, which went brilliantly. They're huge Roald Dahl fans as well, and with the centenary it was an obvious time to engage with the estate. We feel extremely lucky to be able to work on a Dahl title - they're very well protected.
How does the immersive approach suit Dahl's storytelling?
We love bringing to life the world that we all grew up in, making it theatrical and immediate. It's all about telling those brilliant stories in the best way we can. Alice is an episodic nonsense story, so it's hard to do in a theatrical setting unless you physically go on her journey. The Twits is all about food, senses, taste - that's their language. So it felt obvious to do a visual, tactile, multisensory version of that tale.
Did you always know you wanted to return to The Vaults?
We knew the lovely big room where we set the Alice tea party would be fantastic as the Twits' living room, so that was the starting point. In London we vie for square footage - it's jam-packed with theatrical spaces, but not many as flexible and liberating as the Vaults.
How did you choose your caterers?
The minute we started discussing this as an idea, we knew we had to try and secure Bompas & Parr. Brilliantly, it took just one phone call - it turns out they'd always wanted to do something like this. The newspapers call them "culinary deviants" - really they just push all boundaries, which is perfect for The Twits.
Was it hard to gauge how far to go with the food?
One of the bonuses of being a producer is I got to test everything! Food, and the booze too. So yes - we want to stimulate the senses and provoke different responses. The food might look delicious and then have a kick, or vice versa.
Actually we had a production meeting the other day and Sam Bompas brought along worm salt to have with our tea. I definitely needed a glass of water after that! But it's great to be exploring and challenging our assumptions about what we might consume.
How does the show work?
The conceit is you're a guest at the Twits' house for their wedding vow renewal. It's a windowless house with a 'ghastly garden'. Audiences experience three different spaces, which is fewer than Alice. We're not going to ask you to eat and walk - you get to sit down and really savour that bird pie!
You have the first course and a cocktail in the ghastly garden, then you're escorted to the house for a wedding banquet - main course and dessert - where you encounter other members of the Twits' family.
At the end of the evening, you're taken to the Muggle-Wumps Downside Up Cocktail Cavern, where you can feast on bespoke Rococo chocolates, drink cocktails and play more games. That bar is also a destination bar, so you can pop along even if you don't see the show, though obviously it's more fun if you go as part of the whole experience.
How much will the show challenge audiences?
Every element of the show will test people, whether the food, the drink or the entertainment. There'll be a lot of "Oh my gosh, I didn't expect that, am I really going to do that" - you have to embrace every element. It's amazing to sit round the table as a team and hear people coming up with ideas, from the menu to the incredible designs from Samuel Wyer. And it's very exciting to think that every audience member will have a unique experience, because they'll respond differently depending on their personal tastes.
Do you think British audiences are becoming braver about immersive work?
Definitely, and more demanding. The great thing is new audiences are coming into theatre via experimental work, and then trying proscenium arch work as well. We always have to look for new ways to reach people.
But there is pressure on theatre-makers to deliver quality and detail. The "immersive" word is bandied around a lot, but just putting it in a room and making it 360 doesn't qualify. I go to a lot of these shows, and I know that, thanks to the level of the people we're working with, the rich texture of this piece is unlike anything else out there.
As a team, none of us like immersive theatre that much as audience members, which I think is a good thing - we're pushing to ensure everyone has an amazing time. Each detail has to be right, from the performance to crockery and cutlery, so that people who've spent money truly feel like they're stepping into our world and leaving everything else behind.
Are there lots of opportunities to get involved?
Yes, in the garden you have to find some of the canapés - so you have to work for it a bit! But with that and other elements of the show, if you don't want to get involved, you don't have to - there's no pressure. I'm excited to see how people will respond to the space, and hopefully cast aside any reservations about getting stuck in.
How adult is the show?
This is the first time a Dahl book has been adapted just for adults. We're all big kids at heart, playing at being grown-ups, so this escape is very welcome. With Alice, we did a version for children too, however for this we thought very carefully about making it a show in touch with that inner child, but very much framed through adult experience.
Dahl's work in itself has very cheeky, subversive humour and is surprising dark, so it's about taking those notes and pushing towards that end of the spectrum in our interpretation of the text.
If teens are brave enough, and don't just want to eat pizza, that's fine, otherwise this is an adult adventure - very high-end food, a proper three-course meal, and a completely unique experience. My advice is get a babysitter, get your friends together, and come on down. Your taste buds will thank you.
Picture credit: Addie Chinn, Florence Fairweather