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Reviewed: Unexpected Twist at Curve

From two great authors beatboxed into one.

 Unexpected Twist at Leicester's Curve theatre
Photo by Manuel Harlan

Unexpected Twist acts as a social commentary with a storyline that runs side by side Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.

Children’s author Michael Rosen adapted Dickens’ 19th century novel with a modern analogy bringing us Unexpected Twist: An Oliver Twisted Tale, published in 2018.

He blended classic literature with 21st-century grime and it’s now been transformed with music into a play that’s going on tour around the country.

The modern tale draws parallels to the original story as Shona (Drew Hylton) joins her new school during their study of Oliver Twist. Her single dad (Thomas Vernal) is finding it difficult to care for Shona after the death of her mum and the loss of his job.

Shona finds it hard to stay out of trouble – much like Oliver Twist himself – and emotions are running high as Nan has cancer, and a lack of money can only afford the small family some chips each night.

Drew Hylton and Thomas Vernal Unexpected Twist at Leicester's Curve theatre
Drew Hylton and Thomas Vernal, photo by Manuel Harlan

It was important to Rosen to capture the language of young people today, but he admits that playwright Roy Williams “outflanked” him here. It was very well done and helped to reflect a range of characters and social issues for youths today through the use of slang, mobile phone dependence, and gang crime references.

The show opens with two beatboxers explaining that everything we hear is vocalised by the cast, of which each member is a triple threat. Vocals, dance, and acting during this energetic performance are all second to none.

Kate Donnachie particularly stands out as Desree, who is also the cast’s voice captain. She adds a captivating vitality to the show through exaggerated movements and singing and vocal percussion skills.

Unexpected Twist at Leicester's Curve theatre
Photo by Manuel Harlan

The clever layering of the cast’s voices was a mind-blowing focus, which all the cast pulled off seamlessly. Lyrics by Yaya Bey and Conrad Murray are as witty as they are upsetting, pulling you in and out of relatable comedic moments and stark reminders of the exploitation of youth and those living in poverty. The production team’s efforts have gone a long way to show that the effects of poverty on children in Dickens’ Novel are still with us today.

Similarities are highlighted between characters; Shona and Oliver, Rosie and Dodger (Nadien Rose Johnson), and Pops and Bill Sikes (James Meteyard). Polly Lister triples up as Nan, Lorraine and Fagin. She references the 1968 film’s Fagin with ease, mirroring Ron Moody’s gestures and mannerisms making her a nostalgic joy to watch.

Rosie Hilal plays school teacher Miss Cavani whose situation is similar to Dicken’s Nancy. Although potentially suffering from a cold, her vocals were beautiful and she carried the weight of a domestic abuse victim valiantly.

Drew Hylton as Shona in Unexpected Twist at Leicester's Curve theatre
Drew Hylton as Shona in Unexpected Twist, photo by Manuel Harlan

Drew Hylton as Shona and Oliver didn’t hold back on the vocals. Her voice effortlessly travelled through the audience with spine-chilling delivery that left us in awe. Although the character setup felt slow, the payoff was worth it. Hylton’s performance brought a tear to the eye as the relationships with her dad, peers and teacher developed. We’ll no doubt be seeing more of her. So make sure you take advantage of Curve tickets for this show to see her live here in Leicester!

I’ve seen quite a few shows lately that end with audience interaction (such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) and I wasn’t expecting it from this one. An unexpected twist you might say. But it makes sense that the characters would break the fourth wall as it’s such a modern play that aims to show young people themselves represented on stage.

Donnachie conducts a beatboxing orchestra and invited an audience member to play around with the role! It was a nice heartwarming touch that makes you want to wrap your arms around this cast even more.


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