The Twits review – Enda Walsh monkeys with Roald Dahl's diabolical duo

Royal Court, London
Enda Walsh has invented a new cast of fairground misfits to stretch Dahl’s tale for the stage, but the titular couple are still the funniest thing in this anarchic farce

Roald Dahl’s The Twits is filled with comic grotesquerie but is a bit light on plot. Enda Walsh, who has “mischievously adapted” the book, has had to devise a story to make an evening in the theatre. The result, while vivaciously staged and clearly appealing to a young audience, often feels a touch tortuous, as if Dahl’s taste for bizarre fantasy has been overlaid by Walsh’s own gothic imagination.

Seeing the work on stage, one thing instantly struck me: the revoltingly sadistic Mr and Mrs Twit are direct descendants of Pa and Ma Ubu from Alfred Jarry’s surrealist satire Ubu Roi. Mr Twit is a shaggy-bearded, pot-bellied monster, while Mrs Twit has birds-nest hair, a glass eye and teeth that it would take a road-drill to straighten. As in the book, the Twits spend much of their time viciously attacking each other. They bop each other over the head with frying pans and, when Mrs Twit feeds her husband a disgusting meal of worm-filled spaghetti, he gets his revenge by elongating her walking stick to make her believe she is shrinking.

All this is suitably diabolical Dahl. But, seizing on the book’s hint that the Twits once worked in a circus, Walsh has them throw a garden party for a trio of entertainers whose fairground they have stolen. On the pretext of restoring the missing fairground, the Twits get their own captive monkeys to re-enact traumatic moments from the performers’ past. So we see how the Yorkshire Terrier Man tragically lost his dog, the Handsome Waltzer Boy was shown to be a stammering wreck and the Tattooed Fortune Teller Lady betrayed her friends.

The Twits are joined by new characters Handsome Waltzer Boy (Dwane Walcott), Yorkshire Terrier Man (Sam Cox) and Tattooed Fortune Teller Lady (Christine Entwisle).
The Twits are joined by new characters Handsome Waltzer Boy (Dwane Walcott), Yorkshire Terrier Man (Sam Cox) and Tattooed Fortune Teller Lady (Christine Entwisle). Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

It is all strongly reminiscent of Walsh’s own The Walworth Farce, in which hermetic characters are forced to engage in endless performance rituals. The problem is that it makes for a convoluted narrative framework and for long periods reduces the Twits to mere lookers-on. The piece is at its best when it opts for headily irrelevant absurdity. There is a lovely first-act climax in which all the characters engage in a handkerchief-waving morris dance (movement by Steven Hoggett) to the sounds of Pomp and Circumstance. To mark Christmas, Mrs Twit also does a dizzily parodic Queen’s speech which turns into an attack on children, whether shyly introvert or noisily inquisitive, at which WC Fields might have blanched.

Even if the basic story is overburdened, John Tiffany’s production conveys a sense of barely controlled anarchy. Chloe Lamford’s design, which gives the impression one is viewing the action through an oval-shaped porthole and which boasts a climactic visual coup, is characteristically ingenious. The performances also have the right exaggerated intensity. Monica Dolan, in particular, makes Mrs Twit a nightmarish ratbag prone to hurling herself at the stage while Jason Watkins’s bushy-bearded Mr Twit suggests a demonic Edward Lear. Sam Cox, Dwane Walcott and Christine Entwistle are perfectly good as their fairground victims and the four actors who play the monkeys are suitably simian.

It is all very jolly, if a bit strenuous, but the best is saved till last when, in a gesture fitting the Royal Court’s season of revolution, we literally see the world turned upside down.


Michael Billington

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The odd couple: why Roald Dahl’s The Twits makes such a good play
The writer Enda Walsh and two of the directors who are adapting Dahl’s dark tale of the vile, bullying couple Mr and Mrs Twit for the theatre, explain how it taps in to kids’ love of cruelty, violence and social justice

Sabine Durrant

04, Apr, 2015 @5:30 AM

Article image
The Twits review – Enda Walsh clobbers Dahl’s comic caper
Walsh’s ‘mischievous’ dialogue and plot additions largely obscure Dahl’s nimble, knockabout nastiness

Susannah Clapp

19, Apr, 2015 @6:00 AM

Article image
The Twits review – panto pranks in Roald Dahl's anti-beard manifesto
David Wood sensibly doesn’t try to overextend what is one of Dahl’s most concise works, but he does keep the audience – especially the bearded members – on their toes

Alfred Hickling

20, Dec, 2016 @12:12 PM

Article image
Glued to Roald Dahl: the Guardian will stream The Twits
A theatrical reading of the children’s classic, directed by Ned Bennett, will be free online from 5 September

Chris Wiegand

26, Aug, 2020 @10:00 AM

Article image
Watch Roald Dahl’s The Twits: a disgustingly delightful reading – video
The classic tale of the gruesome twosome is presented in an unabridged theatrical reading, filmed at the Unicorn in London

Guardian Stage

05, Sep, 2020 @8:50 AM

Article image
Cardiff prepares to celebrate Roald Dahl's centenary
Morris minors, spitfire pilots and ‘endless surprises’ to descend on Welsh capital in remembrance of city’s beloved storyteller

Hannah Ellis-Petersen

16, Sep, 2016 @6:00 AM

Article image
Dinner at the Twits review – Dahl's ghastly couple dish up cordon bleurgh
Rodent goujons and nettle cocktails are on the entertainingly monstrous menu but this immersive theatre show is far from filling

Ryan Gilbey

15, Sep, 2016 @11:53 AM

Article image
Enda Walsh: 'Pure theatre animal' explores solitude and the void below

Lauded Irish playwright and screenwriter mixes physical comedy and verbal energy to delve into the subtext of lonely lives

Michael Billington

18, Sep, 2014 @6:00 AM

Article image
James and the Giant Peach review – a thrilling psychedelic trip
This seasonal offering for younger audiences roots Roald Dahl’s dark, fantastical tale firmly in the far-out 60s, writes Alfred Hickling

Alfred Hickling

05, Jan, 2015 @1:44 PM

Article image
Portrait of the artist: Enda Walsh, playwright

'I've never had to punch anyone, but I know I won't regret it if I do'.

Interview by Laura Barnett

07, Aug, 2007 @8:53 AM