‘Roald Dahl’s – The Twits’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by December 7, 2017

‘Roald Dahl’s – The Twits’ is a play for children, which was adapted in 2007 from Roald Dahl’s extremely popular, 1980 children’s novel. The book had many of its 270 pages illustrated by Quentin Blake. This lively and fun show has been co-created for kids of all ages, by Humphrey Bower and Michael Barlow. It is having its World Premiere at the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, 1 Short Street, Fremantle in Pioneer Park, opposite the Fremantle railway station.

The theatre, which was opened in 1921, is now owned by the Department of Culture and the Arts.

Dahl was a pogonophobe, and having a lifelong dread of beards – obvious from the opening sentence – as a hirsute person myself, and picked on in the first minute by the actors, perhaps I should not be reviewing this play.

These wonderful 55-minute public performances run until 15th December, and then there will be more daytime shows after the Christmas break. The school season starts on 8th January and runs until Saturday the 27th. There are 10.00 am and 1.00 pm shows every day, with an extra 6.30 pm performance on Fridays.

 

The scene: is near a dead tree in an English woodland.

The set: is a cream floor, surrounded by black drapes. Near centre of the stage, is a white three-metre, tree stump. Hanging on the branches are various colourful, symbolic props, including a chair, and a beer tankard. There are two amazing puppet masks, about the size of a dustbin lid. These faces are Picasso-like in their design (superb work and construction by puppet maker, Leon Hendroff); Mrs Twit has a detachable ‘glass eye’, and Mr Twit’s face is covered in red hair.

The show’s production manager and technical operator is George Ashforth.

The lights come up to the bouncy beat of Strauss’s ‘Tritsch Tratsch Polka’, (sound consultant Lee Buddle) setting the fun atmosphere of a pantomime or circus. The colourful lighting (designer Rhiannon Peterson) flashes in time to the music. The two performers, with massive beaming smiles enter. They are Geordie Crawley (Mr Twit) and Jessica Harlond-Kenny (Mrs Twit) dressed in bright, everyday clothing. They take their masks off the tree and explain who they are:-

This synopsis contains spoilers, but is given as a child’s guide to the story and what to expect.

 

       Mr. Twit is a wicked person with a massive beard that is hard, spiky, and full of particles of food that he nibbles on when hungry. By thinking evil thoughts, Mrs. Twit, who was once beautiful, has now become mean and ugly. Mr and Mrs Twit live together in a brick house without any windows. They play terrible tricks on each other. There follows a fun series of these incidents, involving horrible food or Mrs Twit’s glass eye.

      As part of their cruelty, the Twits, who are retired circus trainers, have been training a monkey, Muggle-Wump, for their ‘Great Upside Down Monkey Circus’, often Mrs. Twit will beat him with her cane. Muggle-Wump and his caring family of African monkeys, try to warn local birds not land on the old Dead Tree, as its branches are covered in powerful glue to help Mr Twit catch them for his bird pies. However, because Muggle-Wump is African, the English birds do not understand what Muggle-Wump is saying.

     If caught by the Twits, the monkeys are made to spend hours standing on their heads. One day, the birds have an overseas visitor, a Roly-Poly bird from Africa who chats to the monkeys in their cage. The monkeys warn Roly-Poly about the Twits’ glue, and the visitor translates for his feathered friends, thus keeping them safe.

      The Twits are furious, and as they cannot catch any more birds for their pies, they go in search of a gun. While the Twits are gone, Roly-Poly grabs the key to the monkeys’ cage, and frees Muggle-Wump and his family.

     With the birds help, the Muggle-Wumps develop a cunning plot against the Twits; they turn the Twits’ living room upside-down, and by using the Twits’ tough glue, they stick everything to the ceiling. The Twits come home, and as they enter their house, two ravens drop glue on their heads. When, Mr. Twit finds their house upside-down, he encourages Mrs. Twit to stand on her head, so they will be the correct way around. However, the Twits end up upside-down, and stuck firmly to the floor. Being upside down causes the famous shrinking disease, and so the Twits become smaller. After a few days, the gas meter man, Fred, discovers the Twits have shrunk so much that they have disappeared into themselves, leaving a pile of reeking clothes.

      To celebrate, Muggle-Wump and his family build a tranquil house in the woods, where they enjoy life with their bird friends. When Roly-Poly flies south in the winter, Muggle-Wump and his family will also return to Africa.

 

Like Grimm’s Fairy Tales, so many of the recent puppet shows have had wonderful children’s storylines, but with quite a dark underlying theme. This story, although typical of Dahl’s weird happenings, just sparkled and held the house full of youngsters in total silence. There was no fidgeting, no whispers or chatting, the children were mesmerised for the whole show.

The two actors, Geordie Crawley and Jessica Harlond-Kenny, both had a supreme and rare style of storytelling, the children sat open-mouthed. For the whole performance, the actors leapt around the stage as the crippling pace increased. The ingenious puppet maker, Leon Hendroff had incorporated into each mask, mechanical moving parts, squeaks, and whistles. The kids loved the enchanted effect as the performers operated the mechanisms without missing a word.

Master comedian, Sam Longley, assisted the Resident Director Michael Barlow, and between them, they gave the Spare Parts Puppets best possible fun show for kids.

By the end of the performance, the two stars of the show, Geordie and Jessica were moving ‘puddles’, saturated by the demands of their exceptional, high-energy performances. So fresh and unrelenting were their routines, that I was amazed to discover it was their third performance of the day.

So, if you have any children in the family, five and upwards, they will love this unsentimental, grotesque fun experience. The show also has a hilarious, adult storyline interwoven, poking fun at current new items.

There is nothing too scary in this story, and is a perfect show for the first time theatregoer.