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The Twits

"Having absolutely no regard for life and hating every living creature on this miserable planet of ours— is something of which I will never tire." — Mr Twit
The Twits
Jason Watkins and Monica Dolan as Mr and Mrs Twit (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
The late Roald Dahl is enjoying the success of his children's novels on the London stage: the Royal Shakespeare Company's magnificent Matilda and Sam Mendes' Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. So it is that the creative John Tiffany brings The Twits to the Royal Court but as a play rather than a musical.

The original book was a rather thin affair about the atrocious Twits torturing a family of cage bound monkeys repeatedly ordering them to stand on their heads or killing birds, but not meat enough for a two hour play. This is where Irish playwright Enda Walsh gives what he calls a mischievous adaptation by adding a dispossessed troupe of three fairground professionals living in a caravan to the mix. Well you interfere with children's loved stories at your peril! This was the issue with the Harry Potter films when no artistic deviation was allowed from the text. The resulting impact on this play was some children in the audience talking their parent through what should have been the story with the Twits killing birds to make horrible pies or molesting the monkeys.

One scene the children will recognize is Mrs Twit (Monica Dolan) feeding worm spaghetti to her husband Mr Twit (Jason Watkins) because these Twits are terrible to each other, bashing each other with frying pans. Well done to the sound team for synchronizing the rib crunching Mrs Twit's walking on her husband or the sound of a frying pan crashing to the floor.

Enda Walsh's added story is about Yorkshire Terrier Man (Sam Cox) , Tattooed Fortune Teller Lady (Christine Entwisle) and Handsome Waltzer Boy (Dwane Walcott). All three have been hurt in some way by The Twits and their fairground taken from Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire.

Children may love them but I often found Roald Dahl's stories to be excessively cruel and not what I would choose for my own children to read. So we have the poisoning of the Yorkshire Terrier, the performing dog as played by one of the monkeys so that he can no longer do tricks, seems rabid and leads to the dog being shot by his owner.

The children were very quiet during the first act. Maybe they too were feeling revulsion at the Twits' excesses? However the second act sees a righting of some of the wrongs and is less gruesome and is more involving.

Chloe Lamford's intricate set looked initially like one from The Caretaker with its aging brown wallpaper and stick furniture but it is enclosed within a rotating circle. The monkeys' cage rises and falls to the left of the stage. A drawbridge is lowered to reveal the garden and the arrival of an authentic looking caravan. Garden birds in the surrounding dead foliage are shot by Mr Twit to make the disgusting pies.

Mr and Mrs Twit's costumes are fun. Mrs Twit's glass eye is regularily removed and Mr Twit eats left over food caught in his red, unruly beard. Monica Dolan with a serious overbite of false teeth and a wig of unmanageable hair grins widely but there is no way that either Twit is lovable. Repulsive more like!

The most endearing characters are the monkeys who are also the most oppressed and it is the monkeys who re-enact for us the various disasters the Twits have plotted for the fairground three. The Monkey Daughter Aimee Ffion-Edwards is especially appealing and sings beautifully.

There is some super and exciting choreography in the final act which thank goodness sees a reversal of fortunes.

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The Twits
Written by Roald Dahl
Mischievously adapted by Enda Walsh
Directed by John Tiffany

Starring: Jason Watkins, Monica Dolan, Sam Cox, Christine Entwisle, Aimee Ffion-Edwards
With: Cait Davis, Oliver Llewellyn-Jenkins, Glyn Pritchard, Dwane Walcott
Designer: Chloe Lamford
Lighting: Philip Gladwell
Composer: Martin Lowe
Sound: Gregory Clarke
Movement: Steven Hoggett
Running time: Two hours with an interval
Box Office 020 7565 5000
Booking to 31st May 2015
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 15th April 2015 performance at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Sloane Square, London SW1 W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)
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