One has mouldy cereal in his beard and revoltingly hairy ears; the other has a glass eye and a possible case of the dreaded shrinks. Their domestic life involves frogs in the bedsheets, wormy spaghetti and catching birds with the world’s stickiest glue.
They are, of course, The Twits. Roald Dahl’s book about the gruesome twosome, which has long delighted and disgusted kids and grownups, is to be presented as a theatrical reading online 40 years after it was first published. Aimed at children aged six to 12, the reading will be streamed for free on YouTube by London’s Unicorn theatre and available to watch on the Guardian website.
Performed by storytellers Martina Laird and Zubin Varla at the Unicorn, the unabridged reading is directed by Ned Bennett whose groundbreaking productions of Pomona, An Octoroon and Equus have shown him to be one of UK theatre’s most startling talents. Justin Audibert, the Unicorn’s artistic director, said to expect gunge, feathers and runaway eyeballs as the films have a “brilliant design world” that captures the claustrophobia of Mr and Mrs Twit’s unlovely home.
Bennett has worked once more with his regular collaborators, designer Georgia Lowe and composer and sound designer Giles Thomas. “I couldn’t think of a more interesting creative bunch,” said Audibert, who likened Bennett to a showman. “There is a deep integrity to his work but he has that thing, too – a flair that I really admire. He is one step ahead of you.”
Rather than playing Mr and Mrs Twit, Varla and Laird are storytellers in the films. “They’ve both got the quality of Dahl’s storytelling, which is wicked but fun,” said Audibert. “Dahl isn’t afraid to be dark, but there’s a glee and a relish, too.”
While Mr and Mrs Twit’s ghoulish pranks reach feverish extremes, Audibert thinks the story of these squabbling grownups will register for children who have seen their own parents “under pressure” during lockdown. “To me, it’s really important that children see the flaws in adults. The adults around them are just as flawed as they are.”
It is the latest in a series of digital projects from the Unicorn, which have included a new version of Tim Crouch’s I, Cinnna (the Poet) and three videos spun from Audibert’s acclaimed 2019 stage production Anansi the Spider.
• The Twits will be available online from 5 September to 30 November.