As the ship’s wheel draped in underwear reaches the furthest corner of the room… yes, you did read that sentence right. There really is a ship’s wheel, it really is draped in underwear, and just as it reaches the furthest corner of the room an uncomfortable silence descends. “If that music were longer,” observes Mr Twonkey, “it would make the act look just a little bit slicker.” He’s right – but making his act look slicker would entirely miss the point of this inexplicably compelling show.
Mr Twonkey – real name Paul Vickers – is something of a fixture at the Edinburgh Fringe, and this year’s instalment of his absurdist ramblings is as impossible to categorise as it’s always been. Perhaps it’s comedy, though there are few out-and-out jokes and they’re all truly terrible ones. Perhaps it’s cabaret; there are certainly plenty of songs, delivered with passable tunefulness and undeniable flair. But it is, in the end, just indefinably Twonkey, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Vickers’ character is itself an unmistakeable presence, clad in a bizarre combination of a faded dress-coat and a chef’s hat. We are, after all, in Mr Twonkey’s restaurant, and he duly introduces us to the remainder of his staff: an avaricious cat, a stuffed-toy lion and a clairvoyant, whose predictions are both very specific and spectacularly wrong. I venture to suggest there are few other Fringe shows where you’re invited to have your mind read by a pair of knickers, or randomly asked to insert your hand into a hollowed-out pumpkin. On the night I attended, the pumpkin seemed to like it.
At times, you suspect it truly signifies nothing. But then suddenly, there’s a heartfelt song about how Mr Twonkey’s wife was stolen by Mussolini – it makes a kind of sense in context – and you realise there’s a real rawness there, a real pain. Like the best nonsense poetry, the meaning is elusive, but feels only just beyond your grasp. Search for it if you want to, or just sit back and gasp at the unadulterated strangeness of it all; either way, your night will be both oddly entertaining and utterly bizarre.
Vickers’ blundering with props occasionally tried my patience – I’m sure it’s intentional, but it’s easy to go too far – and, at risk of over-analysing the whole experience, his constant fiddling with an iPod didn’t exactly help willing suspension of disbelief. So there’s a part of me which still can’t believe I enjoyed this wilfully lo-fi brand of storytelling… but if you let yourself surrender to it, the surreal nonsense that defines Twonkey’s Private Restaurant might just point the way to a slightly more joyful world.