The Theatreguide.London Review
Dahl's The Twits
Royal Court Theatre Spring 2015
This adaptation of a Roald Dahl story might more appropriately be called The Glums, so thoroughly has whatever anarchic fun the original had been defeated by a startlingly sour-toned script by Enda Walsh and a lifeless production by John Tiffany.
In Dahl's book Mr. and Mrs. Twit are a nasty pair who thoroughly deserve each other as they play a string of awful practical jokes on each other – she serves him worms as spaghetti, he secretly lengthens her cane so she thinks she's shrinking – and on any children, birds or animals who come near.
Enda Walsh has reduced all of that to easily-missed passing bits of business, and invented a whole new plot. Having once tricked some fun fair operators out of their fair, the Twits now force their own captive family of talking Welsh monkeys (Don't ask) to perform re-enactments of the trickery before the victims, sadistically rubbing in their humiliation and increasing their pain.
Most of the evening is thus devoted, not to funny practical jokes, but to real nastiness and real pain and unhappiness. Small spoiler alert – the good guys and good monkeys will win out in the end, but even that is perfunctory and not particularly joyful.
Now, one of Dahl's special skills was to appeal to children's anarchic instincts and make nastiness fun, but the emphasis in his books and stories is usually on the naughty delight, a tone Enda Walsh seems to have missed almost entirely.
The fault is not entirely Enda Walsh's because even his unpleasant script could have been livened up by a director more attuned to the tone and style the material wanted. But director John Tiffany demonstrates little flair for humour here.
Take slapstick for example. The Twits rather enjoy hitting each other in the head with frying pans, and do so several times in the show.
The theatrical logic of clowning requires that when someone is hit by a slap stick (or frying pan) he sell the gag by reacting in a very big way, bouncing halfway across the stage or spinning in dizzy circles. But the Twits hardly react at all, in a missed opportunity that is typical of many in the evening.
Indeed, no one in the cast seems to have been given any real direction on how to move or interact (with the partial exception of the monkey family, who do monkey things in the background when they're not centre stage).
You repeatedly get the sense of a very early rehearsal, as the actors seem to move around randomly as if thinking 'Maybe I should be standing here for this moment. Or maybe over there. And what should I be doing with my arms?'
There is no need to single any actors out by name – they all have done and will do fine work they will be more proud of than what they've been misdirected to do here.
Why family audiences should be invited to what is even at its best moments a dark and unpleasant play is not clear, and I must report that the children I was able to watch in the audience sat impassively through most of it, not even responding to such seemingly sure-fire bits as the frying pans.
I should also note that it has been a very long time since I was in a theatre that had so many empty seats for Act Two that had been occupied in Act One.
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Review - The Twits - Royal Court Theatre 2015