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The Twits - disgustingly funny and a terrific night out!

The Twits by Roald Dahl, The Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. Until 19 March.

Review by Annette Kinsella.

When I was at primary school I had a teacher. He was, by all accounts, a perfectly nice man and a very good educator. But he had a BEARD. And to a class of nine-year-olds Roald Dahl fanatics in the 80s this meant one thing – Mr Twit.

Today beards have a very different image. Bushy or clipped, oiled and balmed, the beard is the ultimate signifier of a hipster. But 40 years ago beard-bearers had a seedy, unkempt image. They lived on the faces of mavericks on the very edges of society, the sole provinces of folk singers or criminals.

And back then the ultimate facial furnishing belonged to Mr Twit, the chin-curtained antihero of the eponymous Roald Dahl story. The spiritual ancestors of Wayne and Waynetta Slob, The Twits tells the tale of a slovenly, malice-fuelled couple who amuse themselves by devising progressively nasty practical jokes to play on each other before turning their vitriol on a family of monkeys captured in a cage to help make their fortune.

For many people of a certain vintage, it is still the description of Mr Twit’s beard that dominates the action. Matted and unkempt, it has become home to remnants of Mr Twit’s meals over the years. These include – and I quote – ‘a piece of maggoty green cheese or a mouldy old cornflake or even the slimy tail of a tinned sardine’.

I am delighted to report that the latest incarnation of Mr Twit, brought to life by the Bear Pit Theatre Company, spares us nothing of the monstrous beard, nor of the Twits in general. While the play deviates slightly from Dahl’s original – this version adds a fairground entertainer narrator – the show is faithful to the author’s devilishly grotesque ethos. Lesley Sim as the hideous Mrs Twit relishes in feeding worm spaghetti to her husband and serving him a beer garnished with a glass eye ice cube, while Steve Bizley plays a flea-bitten Mr Twit to Albert Steptoe-esque perfection, gaslighting his wife at every turn with fiendish psychological doubletalk.

The set is full of clever twists and sneaky nods to a modern-day audience – I particularly enjoyed the stagehand in a role as a standard lamp and Mr Twit’s pink trousers, reminiscent of the raspberry red corduroy jeans so beloved by men of the chattering classes a few years ago. The monkey children themselves, joyously played by a capering Emily McCarthy, John Jacobs and Ella Bartlett would surely have received the Roald Dahl seal of approval – he once said he originally imagined Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Oompah Loompahs as a bunch of cavorting British youngsters.

Behind the mayhem and chaos, there is a deeper message. The monkeys, eventually driven to revolt against their jailors, express a desire for home in a foreign land and a community of friends left behind. In these enlightened times, we know that many of Dahl’s own beliefs were at best questionable and at worst downright racist. However, the Bear Pit Theatre Group has succeeded in ensuring the legacy of this Dahl classic is one of tolerance, acceptance and the triumph of good over evil, which keeps it perfectly relevant for today’s audiences.

Overall this show is disgustingly funny, fantastically revolting and a terrific night out for all the family. Get your tickets quick - you’d be a twit to miss out.

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