The age of immersive, interactive, innovative and imaginative dining is well upon us. You want to just eat your food, without accomplishing or experiencing anything else while doing it? Well that’s unfortunate because immersive eating and drinking experiences are popping up everywhere and it looks like they’re here to stay!
Immersive theatre, which I expect many people thought would be a passing phase and has in fact lasted well over a decade, has become increasingly widespread. Alien incursions, 1920s underground secret bars, escape rooms, overnight Macbeth, interactive cabaret, and of course the productions from the Kings and Queens of immersive theatre, PunchDrunk and You Me Bum Bum Train are just some of the available options. But perhaps it is now at the point that the companies creating such events have decided they need something more to compete with their rivals, draw in the crowds, make it different and make it a truly immersive experience.
Immersive food and drink experiences certainly aren’t a new thing; a few years ago I went to Abigail’s Party and was given babysham and “nibbles” in the interval – a small step into the land of immersion – and The Faulty Towers Dining experience has been going for quite some time now. 2014, however, saw an influx of such experiences and what was deemed by some as a fad, appears to have well and truly implanted itself into the theatrical world – audiences are certainly not getting bored of being fully immersed as their appetite for these shows continues to grow.
The Gingerline, Edible Cinema, Medieval Banquets, The Gin Chronicles, The Gold Rush, The Art of Dining, and ABQ London and are just some of the immersive dining/drinking experiences which have sprung up over the last year or so. All of these productions sold out in moments. Trying to get your hands on tickets for some of the most popular productions is hard enough but adding this food and drink element (dinner AND a show), means that trying to get tickets is like trying to bagsie a Mewtwo (It’s a Pokemon for those who have been living in a bubble)
This year we see some new productions as well as returning ones. Theatre-slash-cookery crew, Gingerline are bringing back their Chamber of Flavours – an interdimensional dining machine, with an adventure through 5 different parallel universes, Dinner with the Twits, a gloriously gruesome adult only interactive theatrical dining experience based on Roald Dahl’s famous children’s book, Goldrush’s Django Bango mine – an immersive five course dining experience complete with exchangeable gold coins hidden in your food – then there’s the newest experience from those who brought you the Faulty Towers Experience, Comedy Dining’s Absolutely Fabulous Experience, returning to the famous RV, ABQ London – a Breaking Bad style cocktail evening where you cook up your own cocktails just like Mr White, and after their stint at Edinburgh Fringe, The Gin Chronicles will be back in London with their gin tasting 1940’s radio show
But why are we so keen to hand over cash to go to, often, a secret location to eat food and imbibe drinks which we are told are “deliciously disgusting” (Dinner with the Twits) where we know we will have to fish teeth out of the soup or have basil poured in your very expensive wine – as I did at The Faulty Towers Experience – potentially swallow gold and Gold Rush and eat with a bunch of strangers while wandering around multiple dimension?
And why on earth do the creators do it to themselves? Surely logistically, creating a kitchen in what is basically a theatre set can’t exactly be easy? What if the audience just don’t go with it? You’d hope that those who attend such events know what they’re getting themselves in for; most of the shows make a point of saying that some of these productions aren’t for the “weak stomached”, but what happens if it all gets a bit too Heston Bloomenthall on acid and the audience are just thinking “what one earth will they throw at me next?”
Perhaps it’s the hush-hushness of it; the cloak and dagger marketing and pacts not to tell anyone what happened? Maybe not knowing what you’re going to eat gives a bit of mystery? Or perhaps it’s a childlike excitement about surprises? Or, very feasibly, it’s putting yourself into a slightly uncomfortable and known situation to brush of the tedium of everyday office life?
Personally, immersive theatre is one of my favourite things to do whether it be gently immersive or full on. How can combining dinner with your show be a bad thing, particularly with the incredible teams they have working on the meals? Who knows, but I am diving (dining) in head first to find out”.
Also next up, an interview with the creators of the amazing Gingerline – Chamber of Flavours!