The Twits at Unicorn Theatre Online
Though arts spaces have mostly remained closed during the post-lockdown period, Unicorn Theatre have not let this hold them back. Cleverly recreating Roald Dahl’s The Twits, read by actors Martina Laird and Zubin Varla, this is a vibrant and eccentric reimagining.
The cast of two emerge from under large cone-shaped covers, like something straight from the illustrations of Quentin Blake, Dahl’s long-time collaborator.
The Twits is one of Dahl’s earlier works, written in 1979 and published the following year. It tells the tale of a couple in their 60s who play horrid tricks on each other with very funny consequences. Laird and Varla sit in two grand red armchairs, dressed to the nines, an interesting and unexpected clothing choice; it would have fared better if they had looked more like the distinctly ugly characters. Laird’s reading is initially irregular, but soon improves; her personification of the Roly-Poly bird is arguably the best part of the production, while Varla’s vocal timbre is also well suited to Mr Twit, its gruffness capturing the character’s nastiness.
Director Ned Bennett clearly knows how to administer his cast, while set and costume design by Georgia Lowe looks like a physical materialisation of Dahl’s imagination – particularly the yellow gunk depicting Hughtight, the world’s stickiest glue. Laird and Varla swirl it around in large cylinders, pouring it astonishingly onto their armchairs, which they casually sit upon. Another excellent scene sees Mrs Twit prank her husband with worm-riddled spaghetti, Varla covered in spools of the stuff. Dahl’s masterful evocative language is so visceral that one can’t help feeling nauseous, and Lowe’s imaginative use of woollen noodles capture the grotesque meal perfectly. Another scene, in which “Mrs Twit has The Shrinks”, sees an ingenious use of the stage, while Mr Twit towers above. Adding to this sense of the outlandish are music and sound design from Giles Thomas, whose compositions work to powerful dramatic effect with grand flourishes and creeping instrumentals.
Like most of the author’s works, The Twits is a tale that lingers in the mind long after it is told. The colloquial, chatty nature of Dahl’s prose is a feature that’s central to a lot of his books, and the writer feels like a friend, a confidante letting you in on his own secrets and magical world.
When making productions during lockdown, it’s highly challenging to create a show that attracts and sustains the intrigue of young viewers, but this team surely know how to inventively use their resources, their work culminating in an adaptation that is surprising and entertaining in turns. This interpretation brings Dahl’s incredible, unique and zany world to life, delivering a performance through which young audiences will squeal delightfully, while older individuals may just recall the time spent curled up excitedly turning the pages and returning to this classic time and time again.
Image: Quentin Blake © RDSC/QB2020
The Twits: A Dramatic Reading is available to view on Unicorn Theatre’s YouTube channel from 5th September until 30th November 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.