Known for their weird and wacky installations, Harry Parr of artistic duo Bompas and Parr tells Mary Griffin about their nose for the unusual.
They once flooded a Grade I-listed building with four tonnes of alcoholic punch.
There was so much that visitors could even raft across it in a specially built giant wedge of orange, drinking the sea of punch as they sailed.
They created a “walk through” G&T, with a gin and tonic vapour cloud that would intoxicate anyone who breathed it in.
And, most famously, they recreated the city of London in jelly, perfectly aping each landmark with specially created jelly moulds.
Now, they have come to the Midlands to build a mirror maze in a room at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
The space is so small (the area of a small box room) it’s hard to imagine how anyone could get lost in it - until you step inside.
This construction is deceptive in more ways than one, and after taking only three steps I’m lost.
The team are finishing off the building work during my visit and Harry Parr is flitting from one corner of the maze to the next, wearing a paint-splattered red jumpsuit, while his partner in crime, Sam Bompas, is back at their London base working on their next project.
The perplexing mirror maze, named The Waft That Woos, is designed to complement the RSC’s current production, The Merry Wives of Windsor.
“We want to create a sense of confusion and really explore the duality and mirroring that’s seen in the play,” says Harry, taking a break from painting.
“The idea is that at the start point you’re going to be able to smell something funny.
“The maze is quite confusing even on approach, so we want people to follow their noses.”
Those who make it to the end of the maze will find a golden font which emits “the waft”.
Harry, 29, tells me it uses an “ultrasonic oscillator to agitate the senses”.
The scent carries two chemicals - phenylethylamine (the “love drug”) and yohimbine, an aphrodisiac, to give the maze an irresistible appeal.
It sounds like something inspired by Roald Dahl but Harry says his main inspiration comes from Antonin Carame.
Thought to be the first “celebrity chef”, Carame, known as “the king of chefs and the chef of kings”, was the chef to the Prince Regent.
Harry says: “He cooked these amazing banquets, but to him it was all about putting on a show.
“He would use food to create sculptures, he’d have lots of things made out of sugar and he’d have a stream running along the table.”
This idea of elaborate feasts and experimenting with haute cuisine runs through Bompas and Parr’s work.
This isn’t the first time the pair have come to the Midlands.
They once served up a 12-course Victorian breakfast at Warwick Castle and last year produced a spectacular Elizbethan feast at Kenilworth Castle.
Earlier this year, they created a nine-hole afternoon tea-themed crazy golf attraction on the roof of Selfridges in London.
“A key feature,” says Harry, “is always being out of our depth.
“As long as there’s something about a project that means you can’t sleep at night you know you’re on the right track.”
Their new book, Feasting, is due to be published in November, and designed to be half cook book and half “how to” guide advising people on how to throw a party.
So, what is the secret to throwing a dinner party that would get the Bompas and Parr seal of approval?
“I think it’s having something unexpected,” says Harry.
“It could be something like blowing up the pudding. Anything that involves getting supplies from a local special effects shop would be good.
“It helps if there’s an element of perceived risk.
“Or something simple but unexpected, like getting a pineapple and studding it with cocktail sticks with cigarettes on the end.”
The idea sounds like it’s come straight from a colour-saturated 1970s cook book.
While the rest of the food world is moving in the direction of “back to basics” homegrown food with an emphasis on provenance and sustainability, Bompas and Parr’s glow-in-the-dark jellies stick out like a sore and rather wobbly thumb.
“The whole provenance movement is something Sam and I aren’t that interested in,” says Harry matter-of-factly.
“I’m more interested in how McDonalds restaurants all around the world can produce a burger that’s pretty much identical, no matter what country they’re in.
“Whereas things that are more artisanal play on imperfections. But man has strived for years to achieve perfection on a global scale.
“I think people are quite into using food as a medium of enjoyment but they get too carried away with where it’s come from.”
He adds: “We are trying to create experiences for people that put them into a world that they might not necessarily think existed or that they might not necessarily think they could fit into.
“It’s creating an experience where they are able to find out something about themselves or other people.”
It all sounds like rather good fun but knowing that Sam and Harry were both schooled at Eton before going on to university, I can’t help wondering what their parents make of their career choice, even if Harry’s years of training as an architect are coming in handy as he builds his weird and wonderful creations.
“They’re fine with it. They’re encouraging,” he smiles.
Some might also wonder what their career choice is.
They’ve been labelled “food artists” and “architectural foodsmiths”, and their self-titled business name is “Jellymongers”.
When I ask Harry to sum up what he does, his response fills a page of my shorthand pad.
“Can you tell me in five words?” I ask. “For example, I write stories, someone else cooks school dinners and someone else fixes broken down cars.”
He pauses thoughtfully and says “I make people go ‘Wow!’”
* The Waft that Woos will be open to visitors at the RSC until the end of December