'The Twits' review or 'Meta monkey madness!'

The Twits, Roald Dahl/Enda Walsh
Royal Court Theatre, 15th April 2015

Bonkers. Absolutely Bonkers. Imagine Roald Dahl at his most twisted and then add into the mix a playwright who loves to set his play on repeat, press rewind and warp the whole thing beyond recognition. Chuck in a director, John Tiffany, who isn’t afraid to frighten his audience and a designer, Chloe Lamford, who’s on a mission to dazzle. The result is a buzzing and batty version of The Twits, which feels like it’s always on the verge of a blazing crash-landing, but, somehow, makes it to the finish line.

Lamford’s design sets the tone for a production that is skewed, chaotic, and always on the move. The Twits’ home is contained within a massive carved out circle, with grimy, broken furniture pinned up against the wall. The indented nature of the set lends the design a storybook feel, as if the stage has been opened out to reveal this hidden world. This motif continues throughout the show, as various planks and panels are opened out, subtly mimicking the action of pages being turned by some huge and absent reader.

It’s an inspired set, which establishes a stage-space that is permanently out of kilter. The characters are forced into endlessly uncomfortable positions, always on the verge of climbing up walls or disappearing altogether. It is a set on which anything might happen and – by god – with director John Tiffany’s bravado and Enda Walsh’s fizzing eccentricity – anything and everything unfolds in this grimy, topsy turvy world.

It takes a while to really trust this show, since its structure and pacing is very strange indeed.  There aren’t the usual rhythms, crescendos or plot lines that you might expect from a children’s show and the production is essentially a series of cruel pranks between the deliciously disgusting Mr Twit (Jason Watkins) and Mrs Twit (Monica Dolan). But it’s actually this flagrant rule-breaking that lends ‘The Twits’ its weird, almost unfathomable, dark hold over us. All the rules are off - and that’s just the way that Roald Dahl and the children like it.

This anarchic approach – this flagrant disregard of the all the rules of theatre – obviously has its drawbacks. The main story is a bit duff. Enda Walsh has kept the central concept - that of the human-hating, mischief-loving Mr and Mrs Twit and their long-suffering, performing monkeys. But Walsh has also chucked in a new plot-thread about a bunch of guests who are cruelly and painstakingly hoodwinked by The Twits, and forced to watch their most painful memories over and over again in a meta-theatrical mime show performed by the monkeys. Yep, you heard me: a meta-theatrical monkey mime show. It wouldn’t be an Enda Walsh show, after all, without some warped and disturbing story loops.

But the story is basically irrelevant (weird, huh?). This is show is really about the mischief that tears through the main story and happily rips it to shreds. We are treated to a brilliantly cynical imitation of the Queen’s Speech from a pinched-face and children-hating Mrs Twit. Mr Twit, with his plummy posturing and creepy twinkle-toed movement, is the most crackers of the lot. He leads the gang in a batty morris dance, some screeching Christmas songs and spends a lot of his time blasting his rifle. Every time the story starts to sag, a crack-pot song or a devilish trick is catapulted in to liven things up.  

It doesn’t make for the smoothest or most satisfying piece of theatre but it’s bizarrely entertaining. It feels a little like sitting in the stalls and being repeatedly smashed in the face with a cream pie (stuffed with worms). There are even some politics in here if you really want to dig it out (Mr Twit is just one shower and shave away from joining the Chipping Norton set) but I wouldn’t bother. Just sit back, switch the brain off and let the smashing, walloping mayhem pummel you into submission.


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