Even if you’ve watched some of the film or musical versions of Oliver as part of those film-and-copious-amounts-of-food-Christmases, when you see posters for a production of a hip-hop tale of Fagin’s backstory, it still sounds pretty wacky. I had resigned myself to the fact that it would probably be a 1980s Harlem gangster squad retelling of the book, a lamer version of Step Up. But it wasn’t even remotely like that! Fagin’s Twist was sleek and superbly choreographed by Tony Adigun from start to finish; it was certainly the most impressive and original piece of theatre I’ve seen for a while, a whole new take on Oliver Twist.
The storyline followed Fagin, the infamous Dickens villain, as he grows up in an orphanage and, upon his escape with Bill Sikes, falls in with a team of street kids. Fagin is delighted and buys himself a pocket watch as reward before starting up a team of pickpockets, to which Oliver is recruited, at the unique moment when the production crosses storylines with the book. From then on we explore Oliver’s tricky rise within the group and the inharmonious nature of the relationships between major characters such as Fagin, Sikes and Oliver.
”The story gets a whole load grittier and interesting with power struggles, all shown through beautiful and sharp dance sequences’’
As the name Fagin’s Twist suggests, the play is essentially Fagin’s version of events, only this time he becomes more than the one-dimensional baddy Dickens would have him as. Instead, he becomes a more sympathetic, complex money-grabber whose business is threatened by even greedier characters such as Oliver, no longer an angelic little orphan boy. The story gets a whole load grittier and interesting with power struggles, all shown through beautiful and sharp dance sequences, which alone are able to tell the story.
”The costumes were the perfect amalgamation of low-class Victorian and a spruced up hipster style, adding to the edginess of the dance troupe’s reinvention’’
Everything, from staging to music, was fresh and different, providing just the right balance between a wish to create something totally new using a well-loved classic and all the while maintaining a Victorian environment. The wooden-style set pieces doubled as the perfect gymnastic equipment for the dancers and their sprightliness and energy as performers was just astounding. Equally, the costumes were the perfect amalgamation of low-class Victorian and a spruced up hipster style, adding to the edginess of the dance troupe’s reinvention.
”The synchronised movements of the dancers representing the living conditions in a Victorian workhouse were cleverly done, perfectly conveying the repetitive nature of the manual work and the sleepless nights’’
However, the most impressive part was the sheer effortlessness of the back-flips, the jumping over other characters’ heads and the all-round perfect coordination of the dancers on stage. The synchronised movements of the dancers representing the living conditions in a Victorian workhouse were cleverly done, perfectly conveying the repetitive nature of the manual work and the sleepless nights. It takes a production like Fagin’s Twist to show someone with no dance knowledge, like me, that dance can show a story just as well as an actor might through speaking lines.
I will stop gushing about the performance for two seconds just to say that there were moments when it was harder to make a connection between the dance on-stage and the storyline. What’s more, when The Artful Dodger broke down the fourth wall to provide the audience with an insider’s take on what was going on, the magic of the imaginary stage world was ruptured and his clarifications bordered on patronising.
Yet these pernickety issues with the plot were quickly forgotten when another round of astounding choreography made me resume my state of awe. The performance was an absolute visual treat and the diverse audience, ranging greatly in age, joined together to give the group a deserved standing ovation.
Just be wary, you’ll be leaving the theatre feeling a distinct lack of your own flexibility!
9/10 – Nearly faultless
Image courtesy of Lakeside Arts Centre