Review: The Twits at Berkhamsted Castle

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TAKE two weeks of gloriously dry, sunny weather, allow yourself to get used to an easy outdoor lifestyle, forget this is England and book tickets to an al fresco theatre performance, and what do you get?

Yep, you guessed it – grey clouds and the gentle splish, splash, splosh of early summer drizzle.

But did it ruin Friday evening’s production of Roald Dahl’s The Twits at Berkhamsted Castle?

No, actually, not one bit. In fact, the moody sky and general damp was the perfect backdrop to a dark tale about an unspeakably gruesome couple and their wicked ways.

Illyria’s take on David Woods’ adaptation of Dahl’s classic has the vile twosome wandering amongst the crowds prior to getting up on stage – wonderfully foul, with both adults and children recoiling as they spit and dribble their way through the picnics.

Mr Twit was clad in string vest and patched grubby jeans and sported a mangy beard – no doubt infested with lice as well as his last meal – while Mrs Twit caught the eye with her lurid orange bloomers, sludge green dress and mad, matted red hair.

Set in a circus ring, Woods’ adaptation of The Twits uses a sort of circus ringmaster to narrate the tale. Resplendent in a pink top hat and white overcoat patterned with large yellow and orange sunflowers he provides authority and structure and gains a quick rapport with the audience.

It’s not long before we witness the first of the miserable couple’s mean tricks – Mr Twit chastises Mrs Twit for apparently getting bigger by cutting out a section of her walking stick so it looks as though she’s grown.

It’s a visual gag with plenty of slapstick and the many youngsters in the castle’s audience are instantly gripped.

But in my view the best prank, and certainly the most revolting, is the worm spaghetti – so realistically depicted that it elicits gasps from the audience and much muttering from the boys behind me who are genuinely unsure as to whether or not Mr Twit is actually consuming live worms.

The Twits eventually bore of playing daft tricks on each other and decide instead to capture and train a family of monkeys – the rather lovable Muggle-wumps - for a circus act.

Locked in a cage and pining for freedom, with a little help from a captivated audience, it won’t be long before they escape.

Further audience assistance is soon required again and warmed up now it’s not just the children who are happy to participate.

In order to help trick the Twits into believing the world has been turned upside down we must take off our shoes and put them on our hands.

It’s quite a sight, and can only be testament to a great performance, to witness a sea of shoe-waving children and grown-ups, in a mass display of audience interaction.

Illyria’s production of The Twits is a perfect blend of horror and humour with enough absolutely disgusting bits to enthral the most demanding child.

Surprisingly, despite the menacing duo, I heard only one tearful little girl on Friday and who knows, maybe she was just fed up with the rain.

NICOLA CURTIS