Review: Unexpected Twist at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Review: Unexpected Twist at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Last night we had been invited to see Unexpected Twist at the Newcastle Theatre Royal and it was an unexpected joy to watch!

This show took a book first published in the 1800’s threw it off the shelf and right in front of you on stage in a modern, relatable, engaging and fantastic production for the 21st century viewer.

Unexpected Twist is a contemporary take on the Dickens classic Oliver Twist, adapted for the stage by Roy Williams and based on Michael Rosen’s book of the same name. Artistic Director James Dacre’s ambitious and fast-paced production explores contemporary social inequalities and child exploitation through the lives of troubled teens and deeply flawed adults.

For the older adults in the audience you may be pulling out your urban dictionary to understand what these children are saying, but this production reflects modern day society and language which makes it so relatable and engaging.

The show’s central character, Shona (Drew Hylton), is a modern-day Oliver, living in poverty and exploited by local gang leader Pops (James Meteyard) and his henchmen, Tino (Alexander Lobo Moreno) and Gazz (Alex Hardie). We see if Shona get drawn in and later see if she is able to escape this world she finds herself in.

Shona is seduced by the promise of a new mobile phone, which she is offered in exchange for muling stolen goods and money. Meanwhile, her teacher, Miss Cavani, played by Rosie Hilal, struggles to keep her students on the right path while dealing with her own domestic violence issues. Shona’s father, played by Thomas Vernal, is grieving the loss of his wife and struggling to cope with his responsibilities as a single parent.

With no band, all the sounds and music we heard were from the mouths of these cast. The production features an entirely vocal score, with beatboxing and rap elements which was just amazing to hear.

The beatboxing is a particular highlight, and the songs are catchy and laced with humour. The energetic young cast perform non stop and highly admirably, and Hylton’s central performance is remarkable and displaying a wide range and power in songs such as “I’ve Got a Phone.”

The energetic music and bright lights create an immersive experience for the audience, capturing the atmosphere and mood. It’s this also that makes this production a little bit special and shows off the talents of this cast in full. 

The show’s set, designed by Frankie Bradshaw was simple, but was filled full of presence by these brilliant cast of actors, the lighting and sound production created incredible atmosphere and scenes aided by incorporating the murky streets of Victorian London with a locker-lined classroom.  At times we were blinded by the bright flashing of stage lights but other than that I couldn’t fault it.

I really loved the merging of the characters that appeared as the originals from the tale, stood overlooking their modern counterparts. It was like seeing parallel stories play alongside each other momentarily.

Overall, Unexpected Twist is a skillful and bold production that breathes new life into a treasured Dickens classic and provides a thought-provoking exploration of contemporary social issues. 

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