Drew Hylton, Rosie Hilal, James Meteyard, Liyah Summers, Polly Lister - Unexpected Twist - Photo: Manuel Harlan

The worlds of beat boxing and Dickens collide in this punchy and energetic ‘remix’ of a story by children’s author Michael Rosen.

Based on his novel of the same name, this stage production similarly combines the modern day world of schoolgirl Shona (Drew Hylton) with that of Oliver Twist, as her class studies the classic novel.

The abject poverty of the poor house chimes with her own experience, constantly moving house as her dad (Thomas Vernal) struggles to make ends meet and struggles to bring her up alone, after the death of her mother.

Shooa is too easily swayed by the swag of a gang that has infiltrated the school (Alex Hardie as Gazz and Alexander Lobo Moreno as Tino), offering the latest phone and apparently easy cash – but all with a catch.

Trying to make things better is her teacher Miss Cavani (Rosie Hilal), encouraging them to study the novel and learn from its characters, even while caught up in her own drama.

The production has plenty of verve, featuring songs performed live and accompanied by the 10-strong cast through beat boxing and vocal sound effects. The impact wears a little over the two-hour show, but it’s an impressive feat.

Frankie Bradshaw’s design and Rory Beaton’s lightning bring a stylish edge, with staircases made of school lockers a neat touch, and gig lighting lending plenty of impact and emotion.

The adaption by Roy Williams and songs by Yay Bey and Conrad Murray are not subtle, with Rosen’s parallels between Victorian attitudes of deserving and underserving poor and a criminal underclass and today’s divided society writ large.

Even still, the plotting and need to reflect the two story lines make things slightly confusing and more than a little forced: a straight modern adaptation of Dickens, or a genuinely new play would perhaps have given a clearer and more effective narrative.

Nonetheless on its own terms this is a bold production with boundless energy and a strong social message.

  • Unexpected Twist continues at Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday, April 1, 2023