The Twits review – panto pranks in Roald Dahl's anti-beard manifesto

Curve, Leicester
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

One hundred years after his birth, Roald Dahl still seems ahead of the curve. Take the first line of the Twits, for example: “What a lot of hairy-faced men there are around nowadays” – written in 1980 but unerringly applicable to hipster fashion today. In fact, Dahl was acutely pogonophobic (that is, he suffered an irrational fear of the unshaven) and told his biographer, on first meeting, that he thought his beard was “disgusting”. Goodness knows what reception Santa got in the Dahl household.

The Twits is essentially an anti-beard manifesto, featuring a 60-year-old slob named Mr Twit who never needs to prepare anything to eat because he has so many remnants of previous meals adhering round his mouth. And the food served up by his equally slovenly spouse Mrs Twit is reliably revolting. A dish of spaghetti turns out to be a plate of al dente earthworms. He devours it anyway.

Max Webster’s joint touring venture between the Curve and the Rose Theatre Kingston transplants the noisome couple from a windowless brick house to a stationary trailer, where they spend their time burping, farting, arguing and defrauding the benefits office – actually, I made the last one up, though there does seem to be something a little bit reductive, not to mention contrary to Dahl’s great generosity of spirit, about presenting the Twits as a pair of bickering chavs.

The Twits is one of Dahl’s more concise works, in which not a great deal happens other than that the central couple play increasingly vindictive practical jokes on one another. But whereas Enda Walsh’s version, presented at London’s Royal Court last year, overcompensated by introducing a great deal of superfluous backstory, David Wood’s adaptation sticks to what little plot there is. Essentially, it becomes a raucous audience-participation adventure to secure the freedom of the Muggle-Wumps, a family of monkey-like creatures that the Twits hold in captivity and force to perform circus tricks. But it certainly keeps the audience on its toes and, indeed, its shoes on its hands, as we are co-opted into a plan to cause the easily confused Twits to believe that the world has been turned upside down.

Georgia Lowe’s shipping-container set makes quite an impact: the steel walls explode to reveal Robert Pickavance’s Mr Twit enthroned on the toilet, while the leopard-print leggings sported by Jo Mousley’s Mrs Twit do not appear to be frequently washed but have shrunk nonetheless. Dougal Irvine’s ska-inflected score is energetically played by a band of Muggle-Wumps with electric guitars, and the hysteria reaches fever pitch when the Twits turn high-pressure water pistols on the spectators. A word of caution, however: you may prefer to go clean-shaven unless willing to be named and shamed by a giddy audience encouraged to scream: “Hello beardy-man!”

Contributor

Alfred Hickling

The GuardianTramp

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