Review: Unexpected Twist. (touring) Nottingham Theatre Royal

‘Expect the unexpected’ is a saying and also a warning that has been applied to many a sage advisor, common street hawker, politico, and even Monty Pythons’ Spanish Inquisition who nobody ever expects. So I make no exclusive claims to use this saying in reference to the new musical drama currently on tour – Roy Williams’ Unexpected Twist.

What this reviewer isn’t expecting is the musical styling throughout the show. This includes touching ballads, heart thumping beat box, rap and riffing. It’s clever stuff and expertly done. With not a musical instrument in sight or being played, this energetic young ensemble manage to fully inject musicality, rhythm and extra-ordinary life into this tale of crime, poverty and hardship that compares and contrasts modern day street gang culture with Charles Dickens’ well-known story of Oliver Twist. Once I get my unsure head around the beat box and rap aspects I am a hooked ‘pension receiving’ reviewer. The rest of the Theatre Royal Nottingham audience seem pretty attentive too. Except those smelly urchin scoundrels just around to pick the pockets of innocents at the interval. I am sure one of them purloined my lavender-infused Nottingham Lace handkerchief and priceless pocket book. It’s the Workhouse for them if we catch ’em!

The cast of ten double up as contemporary adults and a class of unruly schoolkids in a down-at-heel East End of London district school on an impoverished estate being asked to read and engage with Charles Dickens’ gripping novel. The kids are mostly dismissive of the old-fashioned novel and the wordy intricate patterns of description that was classical literature in Victorian times. Theatrical time frames duck and dive as Dickens’ characters appear and disappear to magical effect and often confuse the minds and actions of the contemporary characters. As reluctant school kid readers are they being unexpectedly influenced by Dickens’ deep concerns for the poor and needy in his own time? Do they begin recognising that the evils of money laundering, violent abuse and criminal coercion are still around in today’s society? You bet they are and do; and the impact on them is dramatic!

Roy Williams lyrical words based on Michael Rosen’s book engage but sometimes are inaudible due to the speed of the rap. With repetition being the vocal base of the story-telling we do manage to catch the drift of what’s happening however. Whilst I wouldn’t class this as a musical per se, song does play a major part in Unexpected Twist and it is often emotionally affecting and stirring sung singularly or with vocal back up.

The excellent and energetic cast are Kate Donnachie (Desree/Dodger), Alex Hardie (Gazz/Charlie Bates), Rosie Hilal (Miss Cavani), Drew Hilton (Shona/Oliver), Nadine Rose Johnson (Rosie/Dodger), Polly Lister (Nan/Lorraine/Fagin), James Meteyard (Pops/Noah Claypole/Bill Sykes), Alexander Lobo Moreno (Tino/Dodger), Liyah Summers (Rasheda/Dodger/Nancy) and Thomas Vernall (Dad). Stand out performances are from Drew Hilton, James Meteyard, Thomas Vernall and Polly Lister.

Unexpected Twist is produced by The Children’s Theatre Partnership and Royal and Derngate Northampton. Former Royal and Derngate Artistic Director James Dacre directs superbly. Yaya Bey is an Unexpected Twist songwriter with Conrad Murray and Murray is also musical director. Arielle Smith has devised some electrifying choreography for the show which is well executed on stage..

For those who like their Cockney rhyming slang there is an abundance of it in Unexpected Twist. I might start using some of it myself. Here are a few examples: Cut and Carried = married, Donkey’s ears = years, Sandy Lyle = smile, Moby Dick (or just Moby) = sick, Captain Kirk = work, The old sunny dancer – cancer, Basin of gravy – baby.

So, as you might consider yourself (ear worms of ‘Consider Yourself’ now in my head ) handing out some bees and honey (money) for some tickets do be aware that young dustbin lids (kids) might find this show’s depictions of violent gang conflict unsettling. This is the guidance offered by Theatre Royal Nottingham, ‘

‘There is a severe nuts and apples allergy in the cast so we kindly request audience members not to bring or consume these in the building during this show. Age guidance: 8+ Under 14s must be accompanied by an adult aged 18+’

Do take a chance on this newly commissioned piece of musical drama aimed at young people. You will be unexpectedly pleased you did. And there is a good twist at the end too. Expect the unexpected and you will love it.

Unexpected Twist runs at Theatre Royal Nottingham until Saturday 25th March.

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