Theatre Review: The Twits (ABA Productions, Curve Theatre Leicester & Rose Theatre Kingston)
Roald Dahl’s The Twits is now adapted into a children’s theatre show, joint-produced by ABA Productions, Curve Theatre Leicester, and Rose Theatre Kingston. It just had its world premiere yesterday at the Lyric Theatre of the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts.
Despite their first show reservation in energy, The Twits is a charming and delightful production of the 1980 children’s novel. It will thrive for the rest of the performances and in their upcoming tour with their engaging prospects.
Personally, to adapt The Twits into a play is hard, because the 103-page magically bizarre story only has vignettes of life portraits of the wicked couple Mr and Mrs Twits in the first part, then a thin easy-to-follow story of Muggle-Wump the monkey and his family in the second part. To make it theatrically interesting, one needs a bit of clever tricks to do an adaptation with the material, same as to a lot of other dramatic adaptations of Roald Dahl’s fictions.
Under playwright David Wood and director Max Webster’s editing hands with their golden scissors, The Twits as a 2-hour play is fun and hilarious enough to capture the children’s hearts in the auditorium. There are some brilliant thoughts put into the adaptation which surprised me quite a bit.
The change of Mr and Mrs Twits’s home from a brick house with no windows into a caravan is a smart move of making the production light, yet also because of its lightness giving the production to explore more theatrical possibility to tell the story.
Designed by Georgia Lowe, the lightness of the set and props, with white plastic chairs and tables as well as a blown-up balloon tree to represent the Big Dead Tree, as well as Joshua Pharo’s lighting design with clever use of neon lights, suggests a vibe of travelling play troupe, a gypsy group of players which happens to land in Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts and do a play for the children there. It is pleasant, ordinary, yet also colourful to welcome. It is already a very good start.
Then the play begins with a chorus of five, which acts for narration of the play as well as the musical ensemble, to introduce the characters of Mr and Mrs Twits. Accompanied by the up-beat music and songs composed by Dougal Irvine, the disgusting characteristics of Mr and Mrs Twits, as well as their vignettes in life, are shown in a quick pace.
Some might think it is a slack choice to go through Mr and Mrs Twits’s characters in such a fashion, with Dahl’s dark, humorous description of the couple in the book totally diminished into broad actions. I, however, think that it is a good choice for the actors to explore the characters Dahl wrote. Mr and Mrs Twits, played by Robert Pickavance and Jo Mousley respectively, are very expressive to an extent that the rudeness of the evil couple are shown before our eyes.
Another smart choice in this adaptation is the extension of Muggle-Wump’s storyline which the audience now can witness how Muggle-Wump’s family is captured by Mr Twits in the jungle. Mr Wood also gives a motivation to Mr Twits of why he wants to capture the monkeys all because he wants to run a circus for money.
This is what the original Dahl story lacks, which is a plot-hole for the story (even though Dahl wrote it in this fashion for the purpose of being centric to the theme of showing the ugliness of The Twits instead of the story of the Muggle-Wump).
To add the scene of Muggle-Wump’s family being caught really invites the children to draw into the story as an adventure for them to root for the Muggle-Wump in an earlier place than the original story. I welcome this idea very much as a children’s theatre piece.
The chorus plays the Muggle-Wump family, with one of the members playing the Roly-Poly Bird as well. These five important performers (Luke Johnson, Liz Jadav, Alex Chang, Charlotte Workman, and Jack Horner) really support the whole show as the core of the production.
Though they were quite conscious and reserve to their energy in the opening performance I saw, their physical strength are clearly there. Lots of gymnastic movements are landed to them, and the chorus delivers the movements in a spectacular way as an ensemble. Mr Horner, playing the Roly-Poly Bird by walking on stilts, also makes his character much more interesting to watch, instead of the flat device written in the original book.
As a children’s show, it is pretty much a contracted norm to have interactive moments with the audience within the show. Interestingly, this show starts to become interactive not until the second act. However, once the interaction kicks off, it is a joy to see the whole audience plays with the idea, and I eventually see the actors are being energetic as well once the children are giving their reactions. I would say, the interactions at the end makes a decent and delightful children’s theatre show into a fun evening.
All and all, The Twits is a good show for children, and do give it a chance for your children if they have not been into the theatre before. This is going to be a good start for them to get closer to the art form.
Roald Dahl’s The Twits
Joint-Production by ABA Productions, Curve Theatre Leicester & Rose Theatre Kingston
Lyric Theatre, Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts
Through 27th November 2016