I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Viscount Reginald Bassingthwaite, a professional art dealer. A Dinner to Die For is an immersive murder mystery with a three-course meal at The Retreat Hotel in Abbotsford. One may dine quietly like a crashing bore or follow my recommendation and dress-up, participate in the tomfoolery and magnify the fun.
It’s 1928, and the dinner is in honour of Lord Quentin Daventry’s birthday at the family seat of Daventry Manor. Lord Daventry (Craig Thompson) is a good chap, just squeezed a little financially right now. He greeted us with his beloved, the talentless but wealthy Fanny Farquar (Amanda McKay), prior to seating guests at one long table. Over the course of the evening we meet another suitor for Fanny’s affections, Captain Montague Smedley-Downes (Ben Loxham); Fanny’s art tutor and mystic advisor, Gwendella Garavinah (Teagan Robertson), who has her own ideas on Fanny’s ideal match; Lord Daventry’s chauvinistic and slovenly yet affable Uncle Bernie (Simon J Robinson); and, belatedly, from his lordship’s childhood, Scottish Nanny Maude (Robinson again), an amateur detective.
The characters, all in suitable accents and costumes, circulate and dine with guests giving opportunity for byplay, and all handled their intercourse with unerring style, if not probity.
I suppose one may describe proceedings as a blending of Miss Marple with the Carry-on gang. If you’re prudish (or didn’t enjoy growing up with English film and television), the unsubtle innuendo may not be to your taste. And – Tally ho! – those paying close attention might guess the identity of the murderer sooner than you would in a Dame Agatha Christie novel. I can honestly say though that this matters not one jot – the enjoyment is all in the ride.
And it’s not your typical 1920s-style murder mystery ride either. The performance has a touch of laughably schlock-horror, a brush with the occult, musical performances and a singalong (tunefulness optional), which is all silly fun. What I found particularly impressive is that all of its elements combined to create an environment conducive to participation from those diners who were willing. Doubtlessly a key to this is the exclusive use of the Carringbush Room and a private bar upstairs. Passing through the hall adorned with prints of fox hunts and etchings of battle scenes, one feels quickly transported to a setting appropriate for the tale.
Having up to 35 guests (20 on the review night) makes it possible to serve meals at pretty much at the same time for all diners, which should please those attending in a group. As the food made its way to table it appeared well presented, with an alternating drop of two possibilities for each of the entrée, main and desert. Those with particular dietary requirements can be accommodated by Daventry Manor, which has a surprisingly forward-thinking attitude for the times.
I was given a `How to Host a Murder’ kit years ago, and despite some initial enthusiasm it was a bit too hard to organise a group of friends. The kit now has a layer of dust thicker than the village idiot. If, like me, you’re happy to delegate the logistics to someone else, A Dinner to Die For gives you the opportunity to play a small character role, the motivation to acquire some fitting accessories, channel Terry Thomas or Penelope Keith and lambast the lower classes at the table, or arrive early to mingle with other guests in the bar downstairs before the show begins.
As one well pleased with being able to deride, connive and survive, I can attest that A Dinner to Die For is a jolly good show without costing thousands of pounds. If you’re looking for something different this MICF, you have the next two Saturday nights to be involved before the company disappear back into their realm of corporate gigs. That will leave you either pondering their Facebook photos and wondering about your inner toff, vicar or aspiring talkies star for another year, or – if you can’t wait – booking them for a private function. Pip pip.