It had been some time since I had troubled the world of online audio theatre but looking back through some missed opportunities revealed something I had long meant to engage with. And having listened, I’m rather glad that I did. Twits In Love by Tom Alan Robbins is a five part Broadway Podcast series from across the Atlantic which appeared in the latter part of 2021 though its provenance is undoubtedly and thoroughly British through and through.
Set in an alternative universe channelling a full blown steampunk aesthetic, it’s a tale of upper crust toffs and their convoluted love lives which owes more than a passing resemblance to the world of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest. Indeed, the very first scene parodies that in Wilde’s play as man about town Cyril Chippington-Smythe engages in badinage with hydrogen/steam powered valet Bentley in an exchange reminiscent of that between Algernon and his man Lane. He is visited by fellow flaneur Cheswick Wickford-Davies (i.e., Jack Worthing) and by the forthright Alice Witherspoon (aka Gwendolen Bracknell). Cheesy omelettes and fruity slices substitute for the iconic cucumber sandwiches but as the unfolding plot develops it becomes clear that tangled love lives and a non-existent countryside character used as an excuse to avoid responsibilities are going to feature heavily.
Though Wilde looms large, this short series probably owes an even bigger debt to the world of P.G. Wodehouse. The central character is clearly a version of Bertie Wooster and the narrative involves his customary habit of getting into scrapes in a country house while trying to avoid matrimony. The knowing valet who steers the engine of the plot, the gentlemen’s club full of ridiculously loveable idiots, the fearsome young woman with new ideas, the winsome country house girl, the concern with the eccentricities of gentleman’s fashion – all are present and correct. In best Wodehousian tradition there’s even a fearsome aunt to keep the pot, as well as the plot, bubbling along nicely. So, this is all great fun enhanced by the added interest (not to mention jokes) which come from the skewed perspective of the altered reality. The environment has taken a turn for the worse with weekends of acid rain and there’s been some sort of great extinction which has wiped out most of the animal species including all the penguins – the Antarctic is also devoid of ice. This has led to food becoming entirely factory produced and the characters sit down to cellulose crudites and Improbable Mutton and if that doesn’t appeal there’s always newcumber sandwiches.
Performances in this series are consistently “big” but quite rightly so and almost evoke another great British tradition – the pantomime. The American cast have great fun with the aristocratic accents and tones led by Michael Urie and Christian Borle in the main roles. Mary Testa evokes Edith Evans in full Lady Bracknell mode as the fearsome Aunt Hypatia and the honeyed tones of Dakin Matthews as the mechanical gentleman’s gentleman are reminiscent of Jeeves at his best. Stephen Derosa is an absolute hoot as the lisping and vowel mangling C. Langford Cheeseworth.
A second season, Twits In Peril, is promised – which is excellent news. I once worked my way through the entire canon of Wodehouse’s work and thought Twits In Love was a great homage to the master of comic writing which really didn’t need the subplot about anarchists to make it sing. There are 35 short stories and 11 novels in the Jeeves and Wooster canon so Tom Alan Robbins has quite some way to go before getting anywhere near that number. Mind you “Plum” was no slouch at endlessly repeating ideas and situations from which his dynamic duo had to extricate themselves. And he hadn’t got the added attraction of the steampunk subgenre to fall back on either. Pip pip!