Roald Dahl’s grisly characters from The Twits are to take the stage at the Royal Court from 7 April – 31 May 2015 with an adapted script by Enda Walsh
The world of Roald Dahl is populated by plenty of magnificently awful characters. In recent years some of the worst, including the spoilt brats that get dealt with by Willy Wonka and Matilda’s riding crop-wielding headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, have made it to the stage in big budget adaptations. Now, perhaps the most wonderfully unpleasant of all Dahl’s creations are getting the theatrical treatment thanks to the Royal Court.
While Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were musicals that took the West End by storm, The Twits is very much a play (albeit with a little bit of music thrown in). After the Royal Court enjoyed success with Let the Right One In, which chimed very much with teenage audiences, the Sloane Square theatre is this time looking to attract even younger people (the show is suitable for ages eight and over), as well as loads of big kids, through its doors.
Director John Tiffany and physical theatre specialist Steven Hoggett, who both worked on Let the Right One In, head up the creative team alongside Enda Walsh, the critically acclaimed playwright who has adapted Dahl’s book. Walsh says that in order to get to grips with a book as revered as The Twits, he had to lose himself in the characters’ weird universe.
‘All theatre writing is a sort of acting,’ he explains. ‘You disappear into a character that isn’t you, or into a world that isn’t yours. There’s a language that starts defining itself. With Dahl there are just so many words and worlds and characters he’s created – it’s glorious to get lost in all that mayhem.’
The Royal Court’s version of The Twits is not a straight retelling of the story that is loved by generations of readers. While the memorable moments of awfulness inflicted by Mr and Mr Twit on each other will certainly be there – from the worms in the spaghetti to the glass eye in the beer glass – Walsh has added new storylines and characters to make it work as a play.
‘The Twits is a long short story, a sequence of events really, and within it is a story of revolution,’ he says. ‘New characters and plot have been developed for stage but the DNA is pure Dahl. It can’t be anything else. He is perfect for theatre. The themes, language, swagger is all his. It’s been stupid fun, really.’
Jason Watkins, a familiar face from the BBC comedy W1A, has the honour of playing Mr Twit and reveals a bit about the additions that Walsh has made to the story. There is an enhanced role for the Muggle-Wump family of monkeys, forced by Mr and Mrs Twit to live in a cage. A group of characters have also been added who the Twits lure into a trap at their home. ‘It’s a wonderful dramatic device,’ says Watkins, ‘that brings out the wicked, playful and catastrophic cruelty Mr and Mrs Twit like to display.’
And, of course, one of the most memorable elements of the Twits is Mr Twit’s beard that Dahl describes covering the character’s whole face ‘except for his forehead, eyes and nose’ and being liberally flecked with bits of stilton and corn flakes. A little disappointingly, Watkins tells me he ‘couldn’t possibly’ grow a genuine version of that considerable bit of facial furniture, so a fake beard will be attached for each performance.
While the beard might be fake, Watkins promises that it, and the rest of the show, will be genuinely, and suitably, unpleasant. ‘It’s going to be an adventure because a lot of it is pretty disgusting, typical Dahl really,’ he adds. ‘It’s not heavy dark stuff, but it is pretty cruel along the way. If myself and Monica [Dolan, who plays Mrs Twit] do our job properly then the audiences will love and loathe us in equal measure.’
If they are to succeed, and follow in the footsteps of Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, then getting that balance of humour, humanity and horror just right is key. Walsh calls it Dahl’s ‘delicious darkness’ and that is exactly what everyone heading to the Royal Court will be hoping to be swept up in when Mr and Mrs Twit come squabbling onto the stage.
See The Twits at the Royal Court, recommended for ages eight and over. 7 April to 31 May; 020 7565 5000; royalcourttheatre.com
Words by Will Gore