Swallowing a glass eyeball, sucking up worms for spaghetti and farting on the toilet: The Twits at the Rose Theatre in Kingston is a show that revels in all things disgusting.
True to Roald Dahl’s book, there are gags that make you gag, and spiteful practical jokes to make the hair of parents in the audience stand on end.
So, how did they make the show so absolutely revolting, and portray characters who are hateful?
“A lot is done through the costume,” says actor Robert Pickavance, who plays Mr Twit.
“I wear a fat suit beneath my character clothes, which gives my whole body a disgusting outline, with a swollen belly and love handles. This also affects the way I move – a lumbering waddle with heavy breathing.
“I slob around in a filthy vest and dressing gown, and wear Y-fronts so stained they must have made some kind of theatre history. I have also had to grow the largest, wildest beard of my life, and attach a dirty beard extension to it, complete with rotting pieces of old food.”
The plot revolves about Mr and Mrs Twit competing to be more disgusting.
“Mr Twit is more violent, but Mrs Twit is more creative,” says Pickavance. “She tricks me into swallowing her glass eye, and eating worms. The worms make Mr Twit vomit, which is a high point.”
Thank the show’s director Max Webster. When he and the cast were deciding how to tackle the story, they picked out two things that Dahl understood: that children are secretly interested in the filth and mess their parents detest, and sometimes find grown ups weird and hateful.
“Most of the time as a kid parents want you to be clean, wash your hands and not talk about things like body parts, but Roald Dahl realises that kids are fascinated by this and want to explore this world of mess, and often have quite contradictory and negative feelings towards adults,” says Webster.
“I had a very happy childhood, but even so at times I felt extreme anger towards my parents. Roald Dahl gives licence to kids to explore how they sometimes hate adults. I think it’s a very good and anti-authoritarian thing, allowing kids to give vent to stuff they couldn’t say any other way.”
The show has been on tour for six months, and Webster says that children in the audience have reacted with joy. The production enlists them to help save a family of monkeys when the Twits plan their most outrageous and awful exploit.
“It’s the most interactive family show I have ever made, and it’s a real delight that the kids feel they have helped to save the monkeys,” says Webster, who directed The Lorax for the Old Vic.
“One child said: ‘We didn’t just see The Twits, we were in The Twits’, and I thought that was a very sweet comment.”
The Twits is a joint production by Rose Theatre Kingston and Leicester Curve Theatre, and runs until April 18
Max Webster, associate director of the Old Vic, is directing Cover My Tracks at the Old Vic in June.