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Pared down & Picasso-esque

Review: The Twits – Spare Parts Puppet Theatre ◆
Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, 6 December ◆
Review by Varnya Bromilow ◆

Recreating a beloved children’s book can be, well, fraught.  Not only do you have to deal with the bald candour of kids, there’s also the fierce nostalgia of grown-up children to confront.  And so it is with Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s new incarnation of Roald Dahl’s The Twits.  This convoluted and very funny tale has been distilled into a one-hour show by actor and writer, Humphrey Bower, assisted by director Michael Barlow.  It is a big ask.

If you’re not familiar, The Twits tells the story of Mr and Mrs Twit, a revolting, twisted couple who enjoy a life punctuated by pranks.  United by their malice, this husband and wife seek to scare, disgust and horrify each other on a daily basis.  Spare Parts chooses to let the narrative do the heavy-lifting in this two-hander, utilising a spartan set and a surprisingly restrained use of puppets.  The Twits are represented by two gaudy, paper-mache creations (created by Leon Hendroff) their features chaotically adrift on their faces.  It’s the first of several unusual choices – the characters in the book are pointedly hideous, which one would think is fertile ground for a puppet-maker, but these representations are more Picasso-esque than ugly.  Part of the sneaky delight of The Twits is surely marvelling at the abhorrence of the protagonists (both inner and outer), but here we’re deprived of that guilty pleasure.  Is this a response to the mean-spirited text that equates ugliness with nastiness, or is it a puppet-maker’s desire to present something less literal?

The actors sporting these masks – Jessica Harlond-Kenny and Geordie Crawley – make fine fodder out of the pared-down script.  Crawley is particularly good, revelling in the stinky misanthropy of his character; his loose-limbed physicality a fitting vehicle for the flatulent contortions of Mr Twit.  In such a spare set, with minimal puppetry, the task of bringing the script to life falls entirely to these two actors.  They do an admirable job, but ultimately this adaptation seems hurried and oddly repetitive.  Much of Dahl’s fabulous gibberish is left out, likely to keep the show to an hour, but it means that the final effect is an abbreviated experience, largely devoid of the nonsensical flourishes that make the book such a riot.  As the young fans I went with later explained… “it just wasn’t as funny as the book.”  A big ask, to be sure.

The Twits plays Spare Parts Puppet Theatre in Fremantle, Jan 8-27.

Photo: J. Wyld

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