×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

London Theater Review: ‘The Twits’

With:
Sam Cox, Cait Davis, Monica Dolan, Aimée-Ffion Edwards, Christine Entwisle, Oliver Llewellyn-Jenkins, Glyn Pritchard, Dwane Walcott, Jason Watkins.

The tagline says “mischievously adapted”; I say hijacked. Working with director John Tiffany for the first time since Tony-winning musical “Once,” Irish playwright Enda Walsh has done a number on Roald Dahl’s novella “The Twits” and turned it into, well, an Enda Walsh play: All awful memories re-enacted on repeat. Theatrically, it’s gleeful — a raucous and raggedy vaudeville show for kids, with a distinct political tang for grown-ups — but it gives up its grip on the original to serve its own ends. The Royal Court production is still just about Dahl, but in trying to be more, it trips itself up.

“The Twits” isn’t about being trapped in the past. It’s about being trapped in the present — in a hateful and hate-filled existence. Mr. and Mrs. Twit live in a windowless house in the middle of nowhere and wage war with one another. She pops her glass eye in his beer; he slips a frog in her bed. She feeds him worms; he toys with her walking stick. Here, that’s dispatched in five minutes of quickfire slapstick — then the Twits team up, turning their torturous attentions onto others.

Crucially, where Dahl’s Twits are brutish and bitter, Walsh makes them posh and superior: crusted members of the landed gentry, dressed head to toe in tweed. Mr. Twit (Jason Watkins) stalks his estate with a shotgun in hand. Mrs. Twit (Monica Dolan) hobbles alongside, smiling a scowl. They’re unkempt — hair like trolls, food-flecked beards, dentistry long since abandoned — because they’re entitled. Why get yourself up when everyone’s beneath you?

At the bottom of their garden, the Twits keep a family of monkeys, the Muggle-Wumps, in a cage, and, as in the book, force them to perform on their heads. This being a Walsh play, though, the monkeys act out a painful past over and over, taunting a group of travelers about the day they lost everything — their pets, their loves, their futures and, crucially, their fairground — at the hands of Mr. and Mrs. Twit.

It’s a convoluted plot. True, Dahl’s is too slim for the stage, but by bulking it up, Walsh also bogs it down. Momentum goes missing as, I suspect, will eight-year-olds, tangled in all the plays within plays.

What survives, however, is a manic variety-show fizz with Watkins and Dolan as its deranged emcees, conducting strained little sing-a-longs and crazed Morris dances. Mrs. Twit gives her semi-treacherous Queen impression. Mr. Twit takes on Santa, serving Rudolph’s head on a plate. They’re as impish as they are imperious and the whole thing becomes a runaway rollick, albeit more like anarchic U.K. comic “The Beano” than Dahl.

While the kids watch wide-eyed, adults are left to chew it all over. What’s twittish about class and privilege? And ought we, like the Muggle-Wumps and the fairground folk, turn things upside-down? It’s a split-level show, but the problem is Walsh’s ever-present form. His insistence on plays within plays is a complete red herring here, complicating the plot no end and clouding the social politics.

Without all this confusion, Tiffany’s production would be a treat. Chloe Lamford’s design — a cacophony of retro wallpaper, bug-eyed birds and knitted monkeys — is glorious; Martin Lowe’s cabaret numbers are both cheeky and punky, and Steven Hoggett’s movement, particularly for those Muggle-Wumps, is brilliantly executed.

Popular on Variety

London Theater Review: 'The Twits'

Royal Court, London; 465 seats; £35 ($51) top. Opened, review April 14, 2015. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Production: A Royal Court production of a play in two acts by Enda Walsh, adapted from a book by Roald Dahl.

Creative: Directed by John Tiffany. Design, Chloe Lamford; lighting, Philip Gladwell; sound, Gregory Clarke; music, Martin Lowe.

Cast: Sam Cox, Cait Davis, Monica Dolan, Aimée-Ffion Edwards, Christine Entwisle, Oliver Llewellyn-Jenkins, Glyn Pritchard, Dwane Walcott, Jason Watkins.

More Legit

  • A Christmas Carol review

    Broadway Review: 'A Christmas Carol'

    Those expecting a traditional take on Charles Dickens’ classic holiday perennial may be in for a shock at the new Broadway version of “A Christmas Carol.” Or at least they might be terribly perplexed by this dour production, whose additions only subtract from the potency of the transformative tale. While there have been many adaptations [...]

  • Timothee Chalamet poses for photographers at

    Timothée Chalamet to Make London Stage Debut With Eileen Atkins in '4000 Miles'

    Timothee Chalemet is set to take to the London stage for the first time, appearing next spring in Amy Herzog’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play “4000 Miles.” Matthew Warchus will direct the production at The Old Vic, which will also star Eileen Atkins (“The Crown,” “Gosford Park”). The play opens April 2020. It turns on the story [...]

  • Jonathan Groff

    Listen: Jonathan Groff Knows He's a Spitter

    If you’ve seen “Little Shop of Horrors” — the starry revival headlined by Jonathan Groff in a small Off Broadway theater — you probably noticed that Groff spits a lot when he speaks onstage. He’ll be the first to tell you that he’s been a spitter as long as he can remember, but “Little Shop” [...]

  • Key Largo

    L.A. Theater Review: Andy Garcia in 'Key Largo'

    Would “Casablanca” make a good play? Guess what: It was first produced on stage as “Everybody Comes to Rick’s.” How about “Key Largo,” the black-and-white Bogie-and-Bacall vehicle in which a handful of misfits find themselves trapped in a South Florida hotel while a hurricane rages outside? In fact, the 1948 John Huston film was adapted [...]

  • Sophia Anne Caruso and Alex Brightman'Beetlejuice'

    How 'Beetlejuice: The Musical' Became a Broadway Turnaround Story

    Christopher Kuczewski is what you’d call a Netherling. It’s a reference to the netherworld inhabitants who populate “Beetlejuice: The Musical,” the off-beat adaptation of the 1988 hit film that’s becoming an unlikely Broadway turnaround story. And that designation, which has been given to superfans of the show, goes a long way towards explaining how a [...]

  • Lena Waithe'The Inheritance' Broadway play opening,

    Lena Waithe, Anderson Cooper Attend Broadway Opening of 'The Inheritance'

    “The Inheritance” pulls viewers in many directions — toward pain and hope, trauma and healing. It’s what brought stars like Andy Cohen, Anderson Cooper, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick and Lena Waithe to Broadway on Sunday — a chance to heal, to remember and grieve. Also in attendance for the premiere at the Barrymore Theater [...]

  • Touching the Void review

    West End Review: 'Touching the Void'

    It shouldn’t work. Attempting to make effective theatre out of scaling a mountain, facing disaster thousands of feet up in the freezing cold and enduring a drawn-out facedown with death is surely a preposterous idea. Yet that is exactly what playwright David Grieg and director Tom Morris and his ideally meshed creative team have done. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content