ILLYRIA must be close to being considered artists in residence at Paxton House; after impressing last year with ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ and ‘Pirates of Penzance’ they were back in these parts on Tuesday night, again reading from the Dahl hymn sheet with their stage adaptation of ‘The Twits’.
Unfortunately unlike for the ‘Pirates of Penzance’ when picnic blankets, strawberries and Pimms were the order of the day, the wet and distinctly un-summery weather we’ve become accustomed to of late meant that the blankets were on people’s knees and the Pimms was replaced with flasks of hot drinks, although I did notice the odd plastic champagne glass amongst the sea of umbrellas.
But however miserable the dedicated audience felt as the rain poured from the skies, ‘The Twits’ cast, who didn’t have the shelter of brollies and waterproof jackets, made sure that spirits weren’t dampened as they gave their absolute all on a small but perfectly formed stage in front of the resplendant mansion at Paxton.
The show’s ringmaster, Alastair Chisholm, dressed in a particularly fetching coat and top hat combo got everyone suitably hyped for the arrival of the show’s two main characters but Mr and Mrs Twit didn’t exactly engratiate themselves to the audience after taking a stroll through the lines of fold up seats stealing crisps and passing comment on people’s tipple of choice.
I’m sure the actors who played the parts- Christopher Barlow and Lizzy Dive - are a pefectly charming pair in real life but for the purpose of the show they turned themselves into a detestable duo who even Jeremy Kyle would refuse to have on his show!
Their characters although thoroughly humorous were more than a tad un-nerving, thanks in no small part to some stage makeup that wouldn’t look out of place in a horror film.
As well as making life miserable for everyone else The Twits loved nothing more than infuriating each other and Christopher and Lizzy did a very convincing job of making it look like they absolutely despised each other.
No kitchen object was safe as frying pans, kettles, tables and chairs were thrown and a particularly gruseome trick involving a can of spaghetti and worms provided the show with its most squeamish moment.
Christopher and Lizzy’s characters were at the head of probably the most shambolic circus known to man and their star attraction- Mr and Mrs Mugglewump played by Matthew Rothwell and Emma Vickery.
This twosome deserve a special mention for their dedication to the Illyria as in spite of the rain and various stunts meaning there were a few puddles of water on stage, they performed a series of impressive tricks including somersaults; walking on their hands and some lifts that wouldn’t look out of place on ‘Dancing on Ice’- without so much as even the slightest of stumbles.
Destined for a life in ‘The Twits’ cage, their only hope was their friend Roly Poly Bird, a man whose character was as colourful as his costume.
And although we didn’t get to see too much of him, due to a rather substantial beak, Thomas Heard fitted the bill perfectly.
His delivery of Dahl’s words was confident yet compassionate and he was responsible for getting the audience involved in a cunning plan to thwart The Twits.
They say good things come in small packages and it wasn’t just the staging that was small but perfectly formed.
The five strong cast did both their director, Oliver Gray and Roald Dahl proud. At no time did you feel that the show could have benefitted from a larger ensemble; each actor played their part with the added gusto that was required in the face of the weather mother nature granted them and although they must have been absolutely drenched, their frustration at the typically British weather never crept onto their faces.
You couldn’t take your eyes off Christopher and Lizzy’s Mr and Mrs Twit - as well as acting their socks off, some of their expressions weren’t for the faint hearted.
Alastair’s ringmaster was the theatrical glue that held things together, always keeping the audience in the loop; Thomas’ Roly Poly Bird brightened up a wet evening and Matthew and Emily’s circus skills provided the wow factor.
An entertaining conclusion which saw Mrs Twit hurtling to the moon at one point, encapuslated everything that was successful about this production- it had humour; endless enthusiasm and terrific acting.
It was my second time at an Illyria production and I’d definitely go back for more; I’ll pass on the worm spaghetti though!