The Twits review – Enda Walsh clobbers Dahl’s comic caper

Royal Court, London
Walsh’s ‘mischievous’ dialogue and plot additions largely obscure Dahl’s nimble, knockabout nastiness

This is not what the Roald Dahl estate wants to hear. Billy, seven, a Twits devotee, announced that, though the production was the “best ever”, Enda Walsh’s adaptation would not have made him want to read the book.

Before the show he had been agog for the moment when the vile Mrs Twit, tied to balloons by her malevolent husband, goes sailing upwards. That moment is not here. He was curious about one of the main atrocities, in which the Twits regularly trap birds for nosh by putting Super Glue on a tree. There is only one thoroughly glued-up bird. He was looking for the close-up grunginess of the human-hating couple: the way bits of everything he eats get matted in his beard; the moment when she drops her glass eye in her hubby’s beverage. These episodes at the heart of Dahl’s comic caper are staged, but are skimped. You can scarcely see the wiggling worms that have been served up as spaghetti.

Walsh’s adaptation – styled “mischievous” – is dominated by his own personality. By his additions to the plot, and by the flavour of his dialogue. Of course, truly to stage a book an adaptation must depart from the original, even seem to betray it. But not clobber it to death. Dahl’s plot is muddied by an added-on, hard-to-follow story about fairground people (Billy: “Why are they making it up?”) in which for some of the time monkeys play people, possibly playing other people. His nimble, knockabout nastiness is obscured by adult knowingness. There are self-conscious nods towards the audience, a take-off of the Queen’s speech, and a superfluous lecturette about bullying.

I have found Walsh exhilarating (Disco Pigs) and splashily dismaying (Ballyturk). Dark-edged fandangos, his plays may run on the spot as they quarry their characters’ past, but they are always on the go. There are glimpses of his gleeful, cartoonlike garishness here. Monica Dolan and Jason Watkins gallivant with goofy excitement: they are upper-class Twits. A magnificent design by rising star Chloe Lamford creates the Twits’ house as a terrible revolving brown drum. Yet the energy is dissipated by the flabbiness of the story. Steven Hoggett’s choreography is unusually lackadaisical – especially disappointing for the monkeys. Even John Tiffany, whose productions have been beacons, cannot prevent The Twits from sluggishness.

• At the Royal Court until 31 May


Susannah Clapp

The GuardianTramp

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