Friday 9 June 2023

Unexpected Twist

 Curve, Leicester

8th June, 2023

This is my life, and I’m resigned to it

James Dacre’s tenure at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate comes to an end this season. During his decade as Artistic Director, he’s developed the theatre as a major producing house, marked by a diverse, innovative repertoire. He’s programmed stellar productions of European and regional premieres (Our Lady of Kibeho, Rules for Living), revivals of modern classics (Blue/Orange, Two Trains Running), and vibrantly theatrical adaptations of novels (The Lovely Bones). His last show before stepping down is a new stage adaptation of Michael Rosen’s 2018 novel Unexpected Twist alongside The Children’s Theatre Partnership. Inspired by Oliver Twist, Rosen transposes Dickens’ story to contemporary Britain complete with beatboxing, iPhones and county line gangs.

Following her mother’s death and her father being laid-off from work, young Shona (Drew Hylton) has moved from bedsit to bedsit, and constantly worries about debts owed and the cost of everyday necessities. When Shona arrives at her new school she is thrown into the world of Dickens’ Oliver Twist by well-meaning English teacher, Miss Cavani (Rosie Hilal). While her peers scoff at the old-fashioned language, Shona is shaken by the similarities between her life and those of Dickens’ fictional workhouse. These similarities extend to the people around her, with figures such as Shona’s Nan, her new friend Tino and the local drug kingpin, Pops, paralleling the characters of Fagin, the Artful Dodger and Bill Sikes. When, tempted by the promise of a state-of-the-art phone she could never normally afford, Shona gets lured into Pops’ circle of drug trafficking and money laundering she faces difficult questions relating to crime, socio-economic justice and identity.

Rory Beaton’s dramatic lighting lifts the grey school lockers and wooden climbing frames of Frankie Bradshaw’s set using colourful LEDs and well-placed spotlights. Bradshaw also excels at bringing to life the characters of Dickens’ novel, the rich Victorian-era costumes contrast nicely with the drab greyness of modern-day London. I particularly enjoyed the moments in the play where the two worlds merge together, most impressively realised in the Noah Claypole interrogation scene. The image of the ghostly Noah looming eerily over Shona/Oliver, goading them, is a menacingly dramatic moment.

While Rosen and Roy Williams draw analogies with broad strokes, one can hardly criticise them for moralising in the current political climate. Unexpected Twist is not subtle in the way it hammers home issues such as childhood poverty and domestic violence, but this is justified by the bombast and energy with which the piece is performed and directed by Dacre. Yaya Bey and Conrad Murray’s music – a mix of Grime, RnB and Soul - is impressively performed by the cast (completely acapella!) and features some really melodic tunes. A slight grapple is that the songs sometimes dominate the action, and occasionally feel like excess padding, but it’s testament to the talent involved and Rosen’s inspiration that the songs excel in advancing character. Ultimately, this production is a commendable attempt to get younger generations interested and invested in both literature and politics.

Unexpected Twist plays at Curve, Leicester until 10th June. For further information, please visit

Drew Hylton and the company of Unexpected Twist. Credit: Manuel Harlan

No comments:

Post a Comment