Nasty delights in an upside-down world [by James Wenley]
Roald Dahl has a lot to answer for. His childrens stories, among them Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, and Fantastic Mr Fox are gruesome and subversive tales, in George’s Marvellous Medicine for example, 8 year old George is responsible for the death of his Grandmother (causing her to shrink into nothing). The adults in Dahl’s stories, like Boggis, Bunce and Bean in Mr Fox or Principal Trunchball in Matilda, are a mean and reprehensible lot.
And with these wicked and whimsical stories, Dahl has been a champion for generations of children. His books were a constant presence during my childhood. Never talking down to or underestimating his readership, his works speak to the mind of a child growing up in a confusing world. Adults, as all children know, don’t always know best.
In The Twits, Dahl introduced us to two of his most loathsome characters – Mr and Mrs Twit. Mr Twit eats weeks old food caught in his beard. We’re told Mrs Twit used to be beautiful, but after thinking years of “ugly thoughts”, her face turned ugly too (great message there). The couple are always trying to play tricks on each other – their mutual hatred of each other seemingly the only thing keeping them together. Add to this villainy Mr Twit’s slavery and abuse of a family of monkeys who he plans to train to perform in an upside-down circus, and the Twit’s desire to trap a flock of birds and cook them in a pie, and you have two outright despicable people!
For their final year show, and first Children’s show in a number of year, Auckland Theatre Company brings repulsive life to The Twits in the forms of Te Radar and David Fane (for who else would make an uglier woman?). Their disgusting habits and tricks – including a glass eye cocktail, and serving worms on spaghetti - earn big wicked laughs from the children in attendance. Like big kids themselves, the Twits tricks appeals to a child’s naughty side.
And as it turned out, this production appealed to the naughty side of a lot of adults too…