Royal Court Theatre
I love kids’ theatre. I work in one, I’ve worked in another, I lap that shit and all the puppetry, disco ball, saccharin goodness that comes with it up.
So The Twits at the Royal Court kind of feels like a misfire to me. It’s a two hour show on at 7:30pm aimed at ages 8+. If you’re 8, this means a late bedtime. If you’re The Royal Court, it means not many children in your auditorium at show time, it seems. It feels like a show made for children, but that’s being seen by adults.
I don’t read reviews before I see something. I worry that they will colour my opinion, or that I will read someone’s very clever thoughts about a thing and instead of engaging with a show, sit in the dark eagerly waiting the interval when I can pretend someone else’s very clever thought popped into my head as I watched. Which is a dick move. But having now seen The Twits and then read reviews, I see it’s not been especially well received.
There’s a bit towards the end of Finding Neverland where they put on the first ever performance of Peter Pan and Johnny Depp really pisses off Dustin Hoffman by inviting loads of tiny orphans into his super posh theatre and scattering them around the auditorium. They laugh along with the performance, and their happiness and delight spreads to the adults surrounding them. The Royal Court need to recruit some orphans.
A couple of reviews have mentioned the lack of children in the audience – and there weren’t many when I saw it*. I got lucky and was set next to two children, with another a few rows in front. They all seemed to really enjoy it. Bizarrely, the Telegraph’s two star review mentions a seven year old claiming it to be a better-than-two-star “best ever” (if deeply unfaithful to the book). Again, implying kids like it. I watched with my boyfriend and we both stood firm on the idea that his nephew would’ve found it hilarious.
I bloody loved The Twits. I thought it was funny and weird and stunningly designed. But I was sat near children – so the joy is not really in watching Mrs Twit batter her husband over the head with a frying pan, but in watching three children have a right good giggle. They were engaged and excited.
It’s not got the polish that a lot of Tiffany shows have, and Hoggett’s movement is less slick and more slapdash than his usual fare. It’s kind of brilliant, because it sort of embodies this horribleness from the main characters. It’s actually uncomfortable to watch something a bit shit, and to me it feels deliberate that you are being made to feel uncomfortable. I want it to be uncomfortable if I’m made to watch a troupe of massively mistreated monkey performers molly dance. Plus, it’s all supposed to mimic a fairground style circus – and fairground style circus is always a bit shit.
If I did read the book when I was little I don’t remember it. I didn’t know until afterwards that it’s a massive fabrication of plot, made up by Enda Walsh that uses the central characters of Dahl’s novel as a basis for a bigger story. I think this is kinda cool. I mean, I think it’s a bit deceptive that a lot of the marketing copy surrounding the show doesn’t make it clear that this isn’t a fairly faithful adaptation – maybe that’s why it’s ‘mischievous’ though, or maybe because it’s hard to sell tickets to schools if your show isn’t as obviously rooted in the novel as a teacher may hope. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the backlash about the adaptation is because it’s not quite what people expect from the marketing surrounding it. But, anyway, I like the idea of taking one idea and building it into a bigger different thing.
The Twits on stage is a wildly political thing. It’s been pointed out that the politics is a bit simple and obvious. A fair point. Mr and Mrs Twit are very, very posh people who like to go hunting and oppress people, not unlike the (stereotypical view of) Conservatives. The Welsh monkeys and the Northern workers at the fairground revolt, and the Twits are shown what for. It is an absolute blatant middle-finger-up fuck you to the Tory party. It’s about as subtle as a red-hot frying pan to the face.
But I’m 23 and trapped in election mindset Britain. Theatre for young people isn’t necessarily known for its subtlety, is it? Again, this is where you need children in the audience because you need energy and excitement; otherwise it’s a room of left-wingers being told the Tories are all dicks in an annoyingly patronising manner. If you’re 8, this is not a show about British politics. This is a show about the importance of standing up for yourself. This is a show about ripping out your own fur in the fight or your freedom. This is a show about questioning authority. This is a show about fighting back. Plus, it has nice things about family and friendship. If I had an 8 year old, that is a message I would be happy to have drummed into my kid without any even attempt at subtlety. Maybe I would’ve tempered the ‘fuck the posh-os’ vibe slightly.
Just after Mrs Twit’s Queen’s speech mockery, Mr Twit warily draws attention to the audience. He asks if anyone has anything else to say. The little girl in front of me’s hand shot up so quickly I thought she might start the revolution there and then. Her excitement rippled into the seats around her, though her dad quickly quietened her down. He probably didn’t want to get picked on. Or, everyone else was being such a well behaved middle-class theatre audience he was worried about breaking convention.
I imagine it was probably meant to be a nice message for the weans, and the anti-Tory thing was just for the adults, but then they got carried away. The moral of the story (besides fuck the posh-os), is get children to attend your theatre for children where possible.
*Maybe it’s because I was at a £10 Monday performance and adults care more about saving money than children, which is why there weren’t many kids there on the night I watched it. In which case, a lot of this review might be unfair.