Like much of Roald Dahl’s work, his 1980 novel, The Twits, has its roots in a twisted, macabre world that so easily interrogates the imaginations of children. Its themes are timeless, and as it nears its 40th anniversary, there is no suggestion its popularity will ever diminish.
As such, tackling this or any of his tales is a bold move. His stories are wildly creative and regularly centre on elaborate narratives — perfect fodder to stir the minds of his young audience but rather more difficult to recreate in a live scene. However, as his tales usually pit good against evil, the underlying themes are uncomplicated and, as this performance showed, easily draw in children.
The story of The Twits requires little explanation; but, put simply, it is the tale of a dastardly couple whose loathing of each other is surpassed only by their hatred of anyone else who comes into their orbit. They are nasty people with, we are told, hideous thoughts, and their faces have become supremely unattractive. And herein lies the central moral theme for the story — if you always have good, positive thoughts, your face will forever remain beautiful, regardless of what its individual features may suggest.
Geordie Crawley and Jessica Harlond-Kenny assume the roles of Mr and Mrs Twit, respectively, and this telling begins with a riff on the many inherent ills of the beard, that hipster accoutrement that continues to defy the usual shifts in fashion. Mr Twit’s beard harbours all manner of disgusting food leftovers and, though the full examination it undergoes in the book isn’t replicated here, we are left it no doubt as to its filthiness.
Crawley also portrays the Roly-Poly Bird and Harlond-Kenny takes on Muggle-Wump, the two central characters that seek to exact revenge on the Twists for their cruel behaviour. In these roles, and in those of the Twits, they are supremely energetic and engaging. Their clever use of the Twits’ masks and the well-designed props bring the more complicated aspects of the story to life, highlighted beautifully by the scene where Mrs Twit is attached to balloons in order to cure her of the dreaded ‘shrinks’. There’s plenty here for adults to enjoy as well, with sly political and social commentary on topical issues deftly inserted at various points.
My twin six-year-old attendees were enthralled, and responded enthusiastically to the performance. Otis, whose favourite scene was when the Twits performed their final act and shrank into their clothes, leaving nothing but a pair of shoes, said that the show “was lots of fun, and very funny. I loved the masks and Mrs Twit’s glass eye”. Henry was similarly positive, and particularly enjoyed when the Roly-Poly Bird and Muggle-Wump stuck the Twits’ furniture to the ceiling. “It was great,” he said, “and I think the actors were very good. They must’ve got very tired.”
At 50 minutes, it’s just the right length of time to maintain the interest of young theatregoers, and sets the tone for what’s certain to be another year of successful Spare Parts Puppet Theatre productions.
Unfortunately the show finished its run at the end of January, so here is a video of what we enjoyed.