The Royal Court showed great goodwill to us all by not offering up The Twits as their Christmas show. Indeed – and rather bizarrely – this partially seasonal entertainment started previews the day after Easter Monday.
And, yada, yada yada, it was the first preview that Phil indeed attended and of course he is perhaps a little mature (in the elderly sense) for the audience it is aimed at. So, he will bear these matters in mind. But only a tad.
Mr and Mrs Twit (Jason Watkins and Monica Dolan giving energetic performances) are a revolting, spiteful couple in need of radical Gok Wan makeovers. They spend their days playing practical jokes on each other when they’re not hitting each other in the face with kitchen utensils and mistreating a cageful of tailless monkeys with Welsh accents. The Twits force these Muggle-Wumps to stand on their heads in the hope that they will one day be able to start a circus with the primates as a prize attraction.
The production values and design by Chloe Lamford are terrific, suggesting there is West End transfer in mind. The Twits house is a massive cylinder with a very awkward playing area, but this opens out when the circus (not in the book according to the primary school teacher who invited Phil along) comes – or rather doesn’t come – to town.
With a Morris dance (performed here to Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance), Aimee-Ffion Edwards (as one of the monkeys) and a caravan all on stage at the Royal Court again, Phil couldn’t help but think of Jez Butterworths’s Jerusalem. If only.
Tediously extended sequences include the monkeys pretending to be Yorkshire terriers, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in the style of Seventies glam-rockers Slade and the full ensemble delivering “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma” in what feels like its entirety. More amusingly Mrs Twit delivers her own version of the Queen’s Christmas speech and there’s also a Tatooed Fortune Teller Lady (Christine Entwisle) clearly modelled on Andrew’s Amy Winehouse vegetable sculpture.
If this is making it sound good and camp and amusingly bonkers, with something for everyone, believe us it’s not. Director John Tiffany will no doubt be tightening things up considerably before it opens, but the audience weren’t laughing much at Phil’s preview and were becoming restless, especially in the protracted Act 1.
A mash up of the surreal, eerie, fanciful worlds of Dahl and Dame Enda sounds like a recipe for dizzying success. The problem lies in the adaptation. It’s too long to sustain its limited plot over the 2 hour 15 minute playing time, it’s far too padded out and frankly just not funny enough. Some things just don’t make sense; the monkeys appear to have plenty of opportunities to escape yet don’t. Mind you, Phil had a chance to escape at the interval but failed to seize that opportunity too.
Phil’s friend – who reads The Twits to his charges – had previously been bombarded with offers to bring his schoolkids along. He’s decided to stay in the classroom and carry on playing all the characters for his pupils. Phil is booking his desk now.
For the record the audience applauded enthusiastically at the end. One can only assume it was the relief that it was all over. And if the rating seems a little harsh for a first preview, Phil has bumped it up for the inventive design.
Over a drink in the bar afterwards, Phil was discussing Jason Watkins’ brilliant performance in The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies and remarked that he was bound to receive a TV BAFTA nomination for it, completely unaware that the nominations were to be announced the following morning. Sure enough he made the list. It was Phil’s very own Tatooed Fortune Teller Lady moment. We hope he wins.