Welcome to Fyre Fest: Wonka Edition

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

The story of Fyre Fest has been told and retold a thousand times, but no one has ever taken a second to imagine what if, instead of Ja Rule and an ambitious young scammer, Fyre Fest were hosted by fictional chocolatier Willy Wonka? That is basically what happened this weekend in Scotland, where a Wonka-themed event promised a world of whimsy at £35 a ticket and delivered the candy equivalent of untoasted Kraft-cheese sandwiches.

Scottish parents are beefing with a company that calls itself the House of Illuminati (maybe the first red flag?) after its immersive “Willy Wonka Experience” turned out to be not much more than an empty warehouse. Based on the event’s website, which is filled with old-fashioned illustrations and AI-generated images, they were expecting the following: an enchanted garden where children could pick an assortment of kooky beans to take home, an “Imagination Lab™” featuring optical-illusion projections, and a “Twilight Tunnel™” presumably designed to evoke that creepy boat ride Wonka takes the kiddos on in the movie.

Instead, they found a slapdash collection of cheap props and poorly hung backdrops transforming the barebones space into a scammy haunted house. One attendee described it as an “abandoned, empty warehouse.” Another reported that the entire walk-through took five minutes — it was supposed to be an hour — and was so bleak that some of the kids started crying.

Immediately realizing just how short they had fallen, organizers canceled the event halfway through its opening day and reportedly put up a cardboard sign announcing it had been called off. Most of the families who had bought tickets never even made it inside. Gathering in a confused crowd outside the door, some parents got so mad they called the police, who apparently offered “advice.”

A spokesperson for the House of Illuminati reportedly posted a statement from the organization on Facebook offering full refunds and profusely apologizing for the mess. “At the last minute we were let down in many areas of our event and tried our best to continue and push through,” the post read, “and now realise we probably should have cancelled first thing this morning.” The company’s director, Billy Coull, apologized on STV News and blamed the mess on “holographic paper” that hadn’t arrived on time, leaving them unable to execute the “absolutely fabulous technology” they had in store.

Elsewhere, actors who were saddled with hamming it up for the disappointed kids have offered more detail on just how dysfunctionally it all came together. Paul Connell, one of several poor guys who had to play Wonka, recalled being sent “15 pages of AI-generated gibberish” ahead of time that involved a villain called the Unknown, “an evil chocolate maker who lives in the walls.” At one point during Friday’s dress rehearsal, he was told to “suck up the Unknown Man with a vacuum cleaner,” but since no one had figured out how to get a vacuum prop, he was instructed to “just improvise.”

The day of the event, the actors apparently came to terms with the probability that they wouldn’t get paid and tried to make the best of it for the kids. One cast member says they were told to “hand the kids a couple of jelly beans and a quarter-cup of lemonade at the end.” Connell ended up having to play Wonka for three hours without a break (“I didn’t know where I ended and Wonka began,” he said — chilling), and after finally eating lunch in his car to avoid the sight of crying children, he and a few other actors went home, concerned about the angry crowd of parents outside.

“In some ways,” Connell says, “it was a world of imagination, like ‘imagine that there is a whole chocolate factory here.’” Something tells me members of the “House of Illuminati Scam” Facebook group would not take that theory kindly.

This post has been updated.

Welcome to Fyre Fest: Wonka Edition