Michael Rosen’s Unexpected Twist

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

You have to wonder what Charles Dickens would make of modern day Britain, poverty, child exploitation, these were issues the author highlighted some 200 years ago with his undoubted classic Oliver Twist which are sadly still very prominent today. 

In 2018 the author Michael Rosen took Dickens’ story and weaved it into his own novel Unexpected Twist! An Oliver Twisted Tale, which has now been adapted for the stage with a freshness and energy that demands your full attention.

This is the story of Shona (Drew Hylton), a young teenager, who along with her father (Thomas Vernal) are constantly on the move to avoid their creditors while attempting to keep their heads above water. In addition, Shona also has the added anxiety of going to a new school, where she is desperate to hide her impoverished background and the  death of her mother.

It’s during English lessons with Miss Carvani (Rosie Hilal) that Shona begins to draw on the parallels between her own life and that of Oliver Twist. It’s also in English class where Shona meets Tino (Alexander Lobo Moreno), a young man who models himself on the Artful Dodger, and like his idol is a recruiter for a criminal gang of pickpockets, and mules, carrying cash, and stolen goods for its leader, Pops ( Jame Meteyard).

With Shona desperate to shake off the shackles of poverty and with the lure of easy money and a new phone, will she join the gang to help her family and most of all prove she is nothing like the 19th century orphan boy who just wanted more.

Despite an initial slow start, this is a bold, unique take on a familiar classic, told featuring beat-box, rap, ballards, and well-choreographed set pieces  all performed by a super talented, young cast, some of whom are recording artists in their own right.  We are told at the start of the performance that there is no accompanying band and that everything you hear during the performance will be done by the cast, which is an incredible achievement. I absolutely loved the beatboxing, it sounded fantastic and was enormously effective.

Drew Hyland is brilliant, perfectly encapsulating the struggle between what is right and that desire to escape her perceived destiny of a life of poverty. In addition, Rosie Hilal is in fine form as Miss Carvani, a Nancy-esque character who although full of good intentions towards her pupils, also has her own troubles to deal with.

It’s important that a piece of theatre can shine a spotlight on issues such as child poverty, the cost of living crisis, child exploitation, knife crime and domestic abuse. Whilst this is a sanitised version aimed at a younger audience it sometimes lacks a real edge and sense of menace, however, it by no means diminishes the strong message the show is trying to convey.

Despite its tough subject matter the production is also a great deal of fun. This is a vibrant, engaging production, performed  by an exceptionally talented cast full of energy and humour telling a story that is all too real and sadly one that is a reality for so many young people today.

Michael Rosen’s Unexpected Twist is at the Lowry, Lyric Theatre until the 7th May. Tickets available here.

Hard Times

Reviewed by Angela Hazeldine

“Now what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts…”

These are the words of Thomas Gradgrind, the School Board Superintendent (played here by Andrew Price). As Northern Broadsides adaptation of Hard Times by Charles Dickens unfolds, we begin to see why this approach to bringing up children can have disastrous effect on their future and indeed, spirit.

Here we have an inventive and ambitious retelling of one of Dickens’ perhaps lesser read tales. Thomas Gradgrind will not allow fanciful thoughts not in his school nor in his home, which becomes somewhat problematic when the circus comes to town.

Hard Times 4

The piece is threaded together with tones of nostalgic North England, brass duets and rich north east folk melodies along with circus montages that are both vibrant and haunting at the same time.

The cast all appear to be multi-talented actors who sing, dance, play instruments, walk on stilts, charm snakes (not a real one for those of you that suffer from Ophidiophobia) amongst other things! I haven’t picked out individual performances in this review as this piece is very, very much an ensemble piece with everyone working together to deliver this epic tale.

Hard Times 1

For me, the first half felt slightly lacking in momentum but this is probably down to the immense amount of detail needed to round off a Charles Dickens story. The second half seemed to have a lot more energy as all loose ends were tied up and the deviousness of pretty much everyone involved was exposed.

Congratulations to Deborah McAndrews for this adaptation of an epic tale, the story keeps moving but all the details are still there which is so important when dealing with Dickens and also to Conrad Nelson for his direction and fluid telling of the story, no mean feat when a circus is involved!

On at the Lowry until Saturday 10th March tickets available here.

A Christmas Carol


Review by Matthew Forrest

Panto season is in full swing at this time of year, but fairytales and jolly japes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, so if you’re looking for something a little different to get your festive juices flowing, then the MAP Repertory Company’s take on A Christmas Carol offers the perfect alternative.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, has made captivating reading for young and old alike for just short of 175 years when the novel was first published in 1843. There have been countless film adaptations of this classic tale,  all offering something a little unique and this version is no different.

Told with various cast members acting as narrator, we are introduced to Mr Ebenezer Scrooge and his dutiful, down trodden  employee Bob Cratchit as they are busy working on Christmas Eve. We get a look into the blackheart of Scrooge as he berates his employee for want Christmas Day off, as well as mocking his nephew Fred, for his merriment and positive outlook  over the festive season. What follows is Scrooge’s road to redemption as he encounters four spirits who look to save the old misers soul before it’s too late.

This is a highly original attempt at this old classic that doesn’t always hit its mark but is a great deal of fun regardless. The cast all work their socks off playing muliple roles and are clearing having a ball, the show is a blend of music and comedy, with a great deal of joy coming from the introduction of the puppet Tiny Tim. What sets this apart from other productions is the way they used the space at 53Two venue, all aspects are covered with various cast members popping up in the theatre. The soundscope is brilliant especially during the scenes with the ghosts, made all the more immpressive by the limited budget of the play.

With a running time of just under hour, Map rep company have tried to cram as much story in as possible, which doesn’t quite work in parts: the biggest problem being the introduction of the tension between Scrooge and his nephew is left unresolved. In addition Scrooge’s scaving encounter with the charity workers isn’t mentioned until after he has his epiphany: so when Scrooge shows his charitable side it has very little impact as it was seen without context.

This is a fun, smart  show, suitable for all the family that will provide a spring in the step as we march towards Christmas,packed with fine performances, comedy, Christmas  carols and lashings of good cheer it’s well worth watching.

On at 53Two until Saturday 23rd Dec, tickets available here.




Manchester ADP team up with The Oldham Coliseum


Great news for budding Manchester actors as 2017 sees the  Manchester theatre scene more thriving and alive than ever. With the announcement of a Northern Rep, independent venues Hope Mill Theatre and 53two supporting new work, there’s never been a better time to be an artist in this city.

Now Manchester ADP (Actors, Directors & Producers) is making is making its mark on The Oldham Coliseum stage. The group was formed over a year ago by Diana Atkins, who wanted to create a forum where people met regularly to read scripts. She was shocked to find that nothing like this existed, so reached out to the Manchester theatre community to gather interest and was naturally inundated. Manchester-based Producer, Hannah Ellis Ryan came on board to help launch the group and, since then, there’s over 1000 creatives on their books.


Manchester ADP produce script-reading performances twice a month at The Kings Arms in Salford and have performed at The Lowry, staging a “Next Steps” event, gathering over £2500 in donations from the community, including the screenwriter of Doctor Who and Queer As Folk, Russell T Davies.

Last year The Oldham Coliseum Theatre became a financial sponsor of ADP and partner, offering opportunities, advice and space for events. Their greatest partnership, however, is yet to come, with the staging of ‘What The Dickens?’ on the Coliseum main stage this May. ADP will stage four responses to ‘Hard Times’, the main stage production, commissioning four of their trusted writers to respond to the classic, under the mentorship of Associate Artistic Director Chris Lawson and professional directors.

Chris Lawson said:

 “The Oldham Coliseum Theatre are proud to continue to support the great work of Manchester ADP, ‘What the Dickens?’ is a unique opportunity to bring the ADP community to our main stage. We are committed to supporting new work and pieces in response to ‘Hard Times’ feels like the right way to do this, with themes and issues that continue to resonate today.”

The four writers are Naomi Sumner, of Brush Stroke Order, Alexandra Keelan, writer of Angel in the House, Kevin McMahon, prominent Irish writer, and Kenton Thomas, writer of ADP favourite: ‘My Man’. The writers will bring a distinct, diverse voice to the world of ‘Hard Times’ under the direction of Joyce Branagh, Martin Gibbons, Adam Quayle and Rose Van Leyenhorst.

Hard Times’ will be staged like never before under the direction of Lawson, to root its relevance to 2017 in this current economic and political climate. Alongside Manchester ADP’s responses, this partnership promises to be something special for the North West, offering an in-depth Q&A on the Monday evening.

Tickets are now on sale at: http://www.coliseum.org.uk/plays/what-the-dickens/

What The Dickens?

Monday 22nd May, 7:30pm

The Oldham Coliseum

Tickets: £5

Get involved with Manchester ADP here: www.manchesteradp.com