If, like me, you grew up reading Roald Dahl, then you’re probably just as excited as I was to hear about the new production of The Twits at the Royal Court Theatre. Not perhaps one of his best known stories, and often overshadowed by more popular titles like Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Matilda and (my personal favourite) The BFG, The Twits is nonetheless classic Dahl: dark, twisted and actually pretty unsuitable for children at times - but that’s okay, because the good guys always win in the end.
Now, the first thing to know about Enda Walsh’s adaptation is that it’s exactly that - an adaptation. (And yes, that’s the same Enda Walsh who wrote the stage version of Once.) This is not a straightforward reproduction of Dahl’s book, although all the essential elements are there. Mr and Mrs Twit are a horrid couple who hate everyone, spend their time playing pranks on each other, and keep a family of monkeys locked up in a cage in their garden. But let’s face it, that alone wasn’t going to make a two-hour show, so this version adds a whole extra storyline about a fairground and the three hapless friends who used to own it until the Twits stole it from them. It’s a bizarre tale, but no more so than the original; plus it provides another vehicle for the play’s main message - don’t give up hope, because there’s always tomorrow. Also, friendship and love always win out over hatred and bitterness. You can’t really argue with that.
Jason Watkins and Monica Dolan are brilliantly loathable as the Twits, throwing themselves into the slapstick comedy with gusto and not afraid to interact with the audience. But for me the stars of the show were the four Welsh monkeys (a.k.a. the Mugglewumps), played by Cait Davis, Aimée-Ffion Edwards, Oliver Llewelyn-Jenkins and Glyn Pritchard. Not only do they have all the monkey mannerisms down, including the acrobatics, but they also manage to be simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking. The scene when the monkeys are locked in their cage and start singing together in Welsh was a lovely moment - although that might just have been because the two little boys sitting next to me joined in.
Much like The Nether, its predecessor at the Royal Court, The Twits boasts an impressive and deceptively complex set, opening up from the couple’s dark, dingy kitchen to reveal their large garden and the fairground owners’ caravan, where the majority of the show takes place. But the set’s moment of glory comes right at the end; anyone who knows how the story concludes can hazard a guess as to what I mean by that.
The Twits is rated as suitable for brave 8-year-olds and above, and I get why. If the original book is dark, this is even more so; I’m still a little bit traumatised by the prospect of eating Rudolph for Christmas dinner. Mr and Mrs Twit are a disgusting couple, who take pleasure in feeding each other worms and popping out her glass eye at uncomfortably regular intervals, and there were plenty of cringeworthy moments. But maybe I’m being a bit oversensitive, because the children in the audience seemed to love it, and didn’t actually seem scared at all.
The other important thing to know about The Twits is that while it’s a lot of fun for all ages, it’s also absolutely bonkers. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s probably one of the most bizarre shows I’ve ever seen. I still can’t decide if what I just watched was genius or madness, but if you go in expecting the unexpected, you can’t go far wrong.