Michael Rosen's Unexpected Twist

Roy Williams (& Charles Dickens)
The Children's Theatre Partnership and Royal & Derngate, Northampton
Grand Theatre, Blackpool

Drew Hylton and cast members in Unexpected Twist Credit: Manuel Harlan
Drew Hylton with Thomas Vernal as Dad in Unexpected Twist Credit: Manuel Harlan
Alexander Lobo Moreno as Tino/Dodger and cast of Unexpected Twist Credit: Manuel Harlan

If you’re going to pick a literary pocket, or two, then those of Charles Dickens and Michael Rosen are a good place to start.

Playwright Roy Williams does just that by taking Rosen’s 2018 book for young adults, which in turn was a ‘modernisation’ of Dickens’s original Oliver Twist, and gives it all a vibrant and highly-enjoyable stage life of its own.

It may be a 21st century take on child poverty and its exploitation, picking up where Dickens left off, but it is also a self-propelling entertainment, albeit one with a strong adolescent health warning.

Director James Dacre is at the helm of a hugely-collaborative effort from the Children’s Theatre Partnership and Northampton’s Royal & Derngate theatre. Music comes from Conrad Murray and Yaya Bey, with verses from cast members; Frankie Bradshaw’s two-tier stage design serves two different centuries of story-telling; lighting (Rory Beaton) and sound (Leigh Davies) are in split-second synch; and choreographer Arielle Smith shapes the 10-strong cast’s movement.

The music comes live and beatboxed, though the deep bass notes too often dull coherence of the lyrics. But they can’t blunt the shine on Drew Hylton’s voice and she carries the bulk of the songs in the dual roles of Shona / Oliver. Just occasionally, the music might have been better served a capella gospel style?

In not so olden days, there would have been the financial facility to take a pared-down version of such a production directly to the schools and academies where Unexpected Twist would talk directly to its target teenage audience.

Just how well it knows that market is evident by the time of an encore that positively demands its audience film the final musical number on their phones, to share it all on social media. A shrewd marketing move that by theatre standards is an Unexpected Treat.

Reviewer: David Upton

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