Shake and stir theatre co bring one of the most loved novels by the British author, Roald Dahl, to the Sydney Opera House. The Twits is the story of two exceptionally revolting humans with hearts as rotten as their teeth. They have no qualms about about torturing each other as well as any other living creature that they happen apon. Since its publication in 1980, The Twits have engaged with readers and given them a sense of true ugliness in a person and the thrill of a good comeuppance.
Bringing any of Dahl’s story to life can be tricky. His stories are widely read and audiences will arrive with their own concept intact. Dahl’s stories have another layer. It might be the recollection of a bedtime story, or of reading a book over and over again. Whichever way a Dahl story was consumed it was clear it was crafted so brilliantly and with such creative aplomb that it should be revered. With all that attached it is a daring task to lift the characters off the page and on stage.
Nelle Lee has adapted the book for stage and Ross Balbuziente as director has made some bold choices. In this version the story is narrated by three circus folk. A magician (Darcy Brown), a contortionist (Ellen Bailey) and a strong man (Johnny Balbuziente). This adds a fresh perspective as they guide us through the narrative. It felt strange to have the focus pulled from the terrible two but perhaps it was kinder to the audience. Focusing purely on such vindictive and spineless characters for the whole show might well have been simply too much.
For the very young there is a lot to laugh at and enjoy. Slapstick and flatulence jokes had audience members in fits of giggles. Mr Twit’s bottom and gurgling guts were silhouetted several times. I myself longed for the wit and smarts of Dahl's writing where it was the subtle text that revealed the horrors of the two heinous humans. I had to let go of my Twits in the end as my daughter, aged 9, laughed merrily throughout.
Mrs Twit is grotesque and Nelle Lee is unrecognisable. She does a great job encapsulating the disgusting elements of Mrs Twit. She seems to know her responsibility of becoming one of literature's most diabolical humans and combines that with her own mannerisms that give Mrs Twit an incredibly horrifying new lease on life.
I felt there was a missed opportunity with Mr Twit played by Leon Cain. His iconic beard, for example, loses some of its theatrics. Sound cues and mime could not encapsulate the truly gross mass of hair that hides mouldy cheese and other leftover bits of food. The beard has always stood out. Dahl himself detested facial hair and his description of Mr Twit’s beard should give most normal people the shudders.
The design by Josh McIntosh brought a wonderful sense of circus and joy. His costume for the Roly Poly Bird was such fun. Bright, bold and on a bicycle the Roly Poly Bird built Dahl's vision.
Let go of your conception of The Twits and you will enjoy this version. Seeing the rude, crude and crass couple living and breathing should be a bit terrifying and shake & stir do a good job of allowing a new audience to access this tale.
shake & stir theatre co presents
adapted for the stage by shake & stir theatre co
Director Ross Balbuziente
Venue: Sydney Opera House, NSW
Dates: 1 – 17 July 2022
Tickets: from $29