Roald Dahl’s The Twits is a wicked sliver of a book. It is one of Dahl’s sharpest and nastiest creations, which is saying something. Mr and Mrs Twit are, as adaptor Enda Walsh says, “British eccentrics of the darkest kind” – they are disgusting, grotesque, they delight in tormenting one another.
The Royal Court’s mischievous adaption, however, does not feel like a conventional page-to-stage translation. It feels a bit like an Enda Walsh play has been detonated within the novel. The plot of the book – the worm-spaghetti and the glugging of glass-eyes – is over with in the first 10 minutes and the rest of the play concerns the extended plight of a family of fairground workers.
The Twits (Jason Watkins and Monica Dolan, both brilliant) use their captive monkeys – the muggle wumps – to enact stories. They become directors of their own malign plays. It’s all very Enda Walshian and more than a little bit weird. There’s a bit where the Twits turn their malevolent gaze at the audience, a bit where it all gets rousingly political, and a bit where something very bad happens to Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.
John Tiffany’s production is visually stunning. The Twits windowless world, magnificently designed by Chloe Lamford, looks like a deep-level bomb shelter, wallpapered sometime in the 1970s, the back wall of which lifts to reveal the kind of caravan Rooster Byron would be at home in. But for all its strange playfulness, it feels pretty bloated and plodding in places and it’s really hard to know quite who it’s being pitched at.