In years gone by, I was one of those miserable killjoys who, when the trick-or-treating "yoof" of the neighbourhood came a-knocking on All Hallows Eve, would flip off all the lights and throw myself on the floor until the coast was clear.
Then I moved from raucous Romford to the serenity of Sevenoaks - aka God's Waiting Room - and instead of threatening-looking clowns rattling the letterbox in need of a Haribo fix, the spookiest activity I now see on my quiet village street at Halloween is a single skeletal pensioner lit up Scream-style by a neon street light, whilst taking his scrawny Yorkie for an evening stroll.
Although I love my safe and peaceful Kent haven, the sorrowful sight of just the odd lonely old soul shuffling past the house is somehow more affecting than the boisterous Essex dramas I'm used to. It reminds me of the marching of time, the need to embrace every opportunity for fun while I still can; I too may be cutting a frail and lonesome figure in years to come.
Thus I throw myself wholeheartedly into everything I do; any opportunity for fun and frolics must be grabbed with both (increasingly gnarly) hands. So when a friend drew my attention to the Twisted Toys Tea Party, I was all over it. With the event blurb promising immersive theatre by Zebedee Productions, a three-course feast by Nanny Bill's and general ghoulish toy-themed antics it sounded right up my (dark, deserted) alley. I set about preparing my outfit immediately...
Saturday 29th October soon ticks around (there's that pesky thing called 'time' whizzing by again), and suddenly I find myself strutting down Bromley High St in broad daylight wearing full fancy-dress, complete with gothic toy dolls strung round my neck and towering Victorian-style lace-up stiletto boots, having hurriedly got ready at work in a flurry of false lashes and face-paint; huge clouds of talc and glitter billowing from my office as I set about the serious business of getting into character as a possessed china doll. It seems to have the desired effect as I'm aware of heads turning, my gawping fellow passengers ogling open-mouthed on the train. Job done.
Arriving at The Yard, an event space set back behind a gated entrance on Shoreditch's Worship Lane, we're suitably impressed by the queuing crowd, who have clearly gone all-out with their costumes: a snake of werewolves, zombies and blood-spattered Barbie dolls is weaving down the street, excited chatter reverberating all around. Instantly I see an old mate in the crowd and we join him, before being ushered inside...
Once over the threshold, we're greeted by a careworn toy dog, casually lolling in a shed and generally looking creepy. We continue on and the scene is set: childhood toys are strung from the ceiling, props such as bunkbeds, a rocking horse and a big old-fashioned pram hint at what's to come.
There are two cocktails on offer: a kermit-green gin-based number and a Barbie-pink vodka one. Tom goes for Kermit, Andy and I opt for Barbies and we select some prime seats on the long banquet-style tables at the front...
The show begins: the premise of the story being a young girl's toys, discarded and left to rot in the attic, become mentally disturbed after years left in isolation in the dark; their once-innocent games now descending into all sorts of bloodthirsty action. Amongst them are a pair of blonde-pigtailed ragdolls, a terrifying teddy, a jack-in-the-box....as well as bitchy Barbies, a rather dashing action man and a lily-livered Ken.
The spectacle kicks off with dancing dolls and a ballerina singing on her podium - only her rendition of "come on Barbie let's go party" has a haunting, sinister tone as she delivers it with a deep, raspy quality to her voice. It manages to be eerie and humorous at the same time, as she bickers with the jack-in-the-box, hinting at the discord between the toys and the all-out war that's to follow.
The soundtrack to the high-energy show succeeds in getting the crowd fired up: I particularly enjoy the LED-lit hula-hooping extravaganza played out to the beat of Lee Walker and DJ Deeon's 'Freak Like Me.'
Between each act food is served on wooden platters by toy soldiers; pumpkin and cheddar croquettes with chilli jam to start, followed by cola-glazed salt beef and buffalo chicken wings served with steamed greens and mac and cheese. The sharing element makes for a sociable environment, and everyone's chatting animatedly with their table-buddies as the delicious food is passed around.
The conversation is flowing and the cocktails are slipping down nicely as the show continues. Next up, we meet the Bitchy Barbies - a pair of fabulously camp drag queens and a bestockinged bubble-haired blonde, who cavort around the set to the sounds of Britney Spears' Toxic, nonchalantly flipping their hair and generally working it. The costumes are suitably glam: the rhinestone-encrusted nude bodysuit is particularly impressive, although I doubt I could wear it quite as well as the lithe young guy who's inside it...
The show picks up pace as it builds towards the impending toy war, the effeminate Ken doll offset by a fit Dan Bilzerian-esque action man, who vows to lead the battle with the Barbies, toy gun in hand.
Dessert is a marshmallow platter in collaboration with The Marshmallowist, served alongside cookies, chocolate curls and a little oil lamp for diners to toast the caramelised apple and pecan mallows themselves, which is a nice touch.
There's a sexy scene with a pair of pigtailed ragdolls, one of whom gets left on the lawn and mangled by the mower. Consumed by jealousy of her still-beautiful twin, she sets out to maim her. The scene takes on a sexual twist as they shrug off their petticoats before making up with a lingering, lingerie-clad kiss - entirely gratuitous but it adds a certain extra frisson of excitement to the already-sizzling show.
With the crowd whipped up into a frenzy by the theatrical feast, high on sugar from the cocktails and dessert, we burn off some energy with a spot of hands-in-the-air booty-shaking to some classic house anthems spun by the dj, before heading out into the crisp autumn air, broad smiles spread across our painted faces, our desire for a memorable Halloween suitably satiated for another year...
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