Roald Dahl’s magical story following the pranks and schemes of a stinky, horrid couple, The Twits, is playing at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre this week.
The familiar children’s book is full of mischief, naughtiness and wonderful trickery, where you love to hate the good-old-fashioned-baddies. The goodies (cheeky monkeys and glorious birds), use their wit, intelligence and intrinsic goodness to give these terrible dimwits the comeuppance they deserve.
Sadly the characterisation of the lead couple, and therefore the whole play is, I feel, misjudged. They are put very much in the real world and are presented as real people, drawing on tangible references, behaviours and character traits that, if our children have ever seen before, they have been swiftly shielded from. But here we see upsetting scenes of abuse and moral depravity, set dramatically to music, in full sight of our wide eyed kids. Perhaps this is an intentional comment on society’s hidden pockets of awfulness, but the choice to portray The Twits this way put my children on edge. This is an edge that doesn’t need to be in this children’s production, and it manages to remove any element of magic or safety that you expect to find woven into Roald Dahl’s stories.
The small cast are talented all-round musicians, singers and acrobats, playing multiple roles throughout the performance. The staging is creative and clever, and I found the lighting and visual impact exciting, if a little stark. The Roly-Poly bird is somehow like Liberace-on-stilts and is very odd, but it does add another dimension of spectacle to the stage. And although there is an element of participation for the audience through the show; Panto- this ain’t.
The production values of this version of The Twits do offer ingenuity and integrity to the theatrical experience, although the lack of warmth and sparkle means it falls short of where your imagination can take you from just reading the book.