Brighton Year-Round 2021
Directed by Claire Lewis, Movement Director Patti Griffiths, Musical Director Liz Woodward. Set Design by Michael Folkard, Set Construction Richard Harris. Lighting Design, and Lighting and Sound Operation Beverley Grover. Sound Design Richard Lindfield, Lighting and Sound Assistant Sophie Collins, Costumes Ann Atkins.
Stage Manager Felicity Clements, ASM Janet White
Puppet Design Edd Berridge, Patti Griffiths. Artwork Henry Lindfield, Poster and Programme Design Steven Adams. Photography Miles Davies. Till August 14th.
How innocent it all is! Birds fly in a choreographed twitter round the BOAT’s amphitheatre. If they’re high enough they’ll avoid the glue. Or possibly guns.
Being August 12th for the matinee, it’s curious how life imitates art. Just as very expensive people are shooting fatted pheasants in Scotland and speeding them down to London clubs in Co2-emitting planes by midday, a couple – Roald Dahl’s eponymous The Twits – are liming little birdies with glue, so they can make ‘hot bird pie’. And the only ones who can save them are us. Pity about the pheasants. If we’d only known.
Adapted by David Wood, Dahl’s 1980 story has delighted children of all subversive ages over forty years, never more than now, where all his late novels seem to make the stage. And being Wood, there’s a ’suddenly’ every five minutes and you’d better join in and take off your shoes. Oh we’ll come to that. And being Dahl, there’s more sticky twists.
Luckily Alan Stewart as Narrator in top hat and tails straight out of Willie Wonker is here to guide us. He’s miced up too; you feel in this carnivalesque blaze with happy chattering all round, perhaps everyone should be miced up. Happily, the cast are mostly blessed with strong voices.
That shoe bit. First the caravan-residing Twits are the most repulsive beings this side of Trump Towers, but their moronic inferno of boredom consists in tormenting each other in a vendetta of petty spites; like Mr Twit persuading his wife to hang on to balloons till she flies away forever till those birds – yes them – sort of peck away her flying machine. It’s all happening at BOAT. Watch for the prop department’s building blocks, blue and white, just a casual throw of brilliance.
And Mrs Twit gets her own back with feeding Mr Twit his favourite spaghetti. Bit slimy? Should be, they’re worms. Then there’s his beard, with 25 years of dinner on it, a beaver deserving conservation through the wrong end of a telescope. Bill Griffiths and Emmie Spencer are so authentic you’ll never want to meet them closer than eight feet with a prison plate-glass between you and them on the wrong side.
Are we ever going to get to that shoe bit? So the bored Twits are so bored Mr Twit decides to start a slave-circus and somehow gets to lush-forested Africa and entraps a charming monkey family Mr and Mrs Muggle-Wump (Edd Berridge, Suzanne Heritage) and Junior Muggle-Wump – Chantelle Winder.
Cleverly – for him – Mr Twit sidles and entraps them in three hoops then tugs them back to a cage which next the Twit caravan proves their abode. They look as if replaying a scene from Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang, another Dahl um, vehicle.
Just when the government is telling us to promote the empire as a good thing Dahl ruins it all with colonial metaphors and BLT’s costumier Ann Atkins with a pith helmet underscores the point. The cheek. Soon the Muggle-Wumps will know what’s good for them, if they know what’s good for them. So – stand on your heads.
But… they’re leaving behind their dear friend super-confident Roly-Poly bird, Aaron Coomer, blessed with bursts of singing every time he’s on stage. He can’t yet save them, but then he’ll follow and break the habit of a springtime.
Luckily there’s other birds, blissfully created by Edd Berridge and Patti Griffiths – a twittering sphere of puppet birds on wire looking like something out of Marcel Duchamp – twirled to ecstasies of chirping by Howard Abbott and Graham Brown. But the Twits have plans for them. Luckily the birds have plans too and let drop a cage-freeing key for the Muggle-Wumps who are just about to climb a tree we know is limed with glue. Then Roly-Poly Bird appears.
The shoe bit? Well leap over the escapes the warnings (‘oh-no she isn’t’ – there’s frequent audience participation and you must stand up) and work out Dahl’s revenge on the Twits. That Roly-Poly Bird is pretty ingenious, noticing the Muggle-Wumps have to stand on their heads… So he gets everything turned upside down, to convince the returning Twits they’re wrong-side up – the Muggle-Wumps for a start unusually right-side. And who’s that twitching their heads with glue? And why do we all take out shoes off and what do we do with them?
Pacily directed by Claire Lewis, movement director Patti Griffiths has adapted the BOAT space perfectly for the whirling cast. Then there’s Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag and other delights played by music director Liz Woodward – the sound’s projected onto the stage itself.
Set by Michael Folkard (construction Richard Harris) is what BLT always provides: consummate. A caravan frontage that with pull-down screens can show exterior and interior and with two grimy armchairs attached can be made to hook upside down. And then there’s that cage. For evenings, lighting design – and lighting and sound operation – is all wielded by regular BLT wizard Beverley Grover. That sound-throwing design’s by Richard Lindfield, with assistant to both Sophie Collins.
The brilliantly exaggerated costumes by Ann Atkins deserve special mention: for the Twits it’s prime filth brown in various shades, plus that archaeological beard, and Muggle-Wumps are clad in a bright ochre uniform with yellow flashes. Roly-Poly Bird’s deep blue frontage is complemented by a rainbow plumage that makes him a star – no less than his due, he’d say. Commer’s also a fine singer. The puppeteers are in thrush-brown and finally in bright blue in a final guise as African-plumed birds.
Alan Stewart though miced up in any case possesses a fine voice and charms as crisp storyteller and chief exhorter of shoelessness. Emmie Spencer is wondrously horrid, with movements perfectly in synch with character and the choreography, and possesses a sterling voice. Bill Griffiths too possesses a strong voice, though you feel he’s just a mite weighed down by his magnificently horrid beard. Aaron Coomer’s Roly-Poly Bird is a demon of fluttering activity as he lightly steps between audience members on descent and ascent. A strong singer he’s a perfect choice, projecting a slightly Alpha-bird Top-Cat approach, with a Californian accent.
Edd Berridge outside his designing role is a fine lead Muggle-Wump and he and Suzanne Heritage complement each other in cavorting activity whilst chattering angst and joyous moments. Chief cavorter though is Chantelle Winder as Junior, cartwheeling, almost floating about the stage. There’s a delicious moment aided by sound design when in Act 2 the trio rewind themselves in a noisy tape-reel spool-back; just one of the tiny ways this production comes together.
Howard Abbott and Graham Brown perform their silent ministry of twitterishness with agility and a flying virtuosity as they gyrate and leap out of harm’s way. The whole cast and production abound with terrific energy that never lets up in its 95 minutes (with a 20-minute interval).
At a time of 50% cuts to arts in education, engineered by true Twits who deem there shall soon be no distinction between beauty and ugliness, where techno-serfdom will soon reign for children here, it’s a joyous kick in the behind to all such Gradgrinds, from all of us, Dahl leading.
On a surprisingly glorious burst of blaze-blue sky, to hear whoops catch like a benign flame, is something. It cannot, and will not be extinguished. It’s a summer must-see to charge you up for the autumn, and taking on the real twits ahead.