Last night, I saw TWISTED, Charlotte-Corbeil Coleman and Joseph Jomo Pierre's adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel, OLIVER TWIST. The production is a collaboration between b current and the Factory Theatre, as part of the Factory's on-going series of co-productions.
This is an up-to-the minute version, set in a grey, grim, and grimy Toronto, awash in an urbane, hip-hop and rap based score by Hagler.
The narrative is primarily driven by a series of over 100 text messages, between a pair of star-crossed, street-involved lovers, Ollie (Ngabo Nabea) and Nancy (Susanna Fournier). Their texts are projected large, on the back wall of the set, for most of the show. This electronically-delivered epistolary comprises the seminal component of Ollie and Nancy's relationship. Texting drives the action of the plot, which is both a good thing, and a bad thing.
It's a good thing, because it feels real, fresh and immediate.
Ollie is a black, seventeen year-old, CAS run-away, who works as a runner for Dodger, a drug-dealer. Nancy, his crush, is a twenty-three year old drug addict, and "bottom girl" for Sikes, a vicious pimp. Nancy, a.k.a. "Lady Porcelain" earns her keep, and supports her habit, by turning on-line tricks, as well as recruiting, and grooming underage female run-aways, and street-kids to work for Sikes in his on-line sex trade business.
Is Nancy just playing Ollie? Can two profoundly damaged kids with self-destructive streaks, escape the maze of street life, and find happiness?
Many aspects of TWISTED work really well. The gritty script, both projected and spoken, has power and lyricism. The play itself is well-constructed. Hagler's music and Simeon Taole's projections add verisimilitude to the performance environment, without overwhelming the story. Director, Nigel Shawn Williams effectively melds the complex productions elements, with understated finesse, into a coherent whole. The 90 minute production is well-paced.
The clever set by Denyse Karn also, largely, enhances the proceedings. The flattened, grey maze, with a retractable platform, functions as projection surface, visual metaphor, and a series of discrete playing spaces for the two performers.
I understood that the precarious position the characters occupy in their lives is mirrored in some of the precarious positions they occupy, at times, on the set. However, some of their movements, from level to level, felt awkward. I thought slightly wider plinths could have remedied this. I also found myself wondering if a show this music-driven, wouldn't have benefited from a choreographer.
Both performances are emotionally engaging and affecting.
Susanna Fournier as Nancy, gives us a well-fleshed out, multidimensional Nancy, showing the character's vulnerability, longing, self-destructiveness, damage and defensiveness, in equal measure.
Newcomer, Ngabo Nabea makes his professional debut in this show. He brings an aura of bewildered charm, and exuberant, youthful heart to his massive role. Like Dickens' Oliver, he's an unabashedly good kid, in a swarm of mostly bad people.
Now, here's why the decision to have the two character write to each other, more than they interact, is a bad thing.
Fournier and Nabea have almost no scenes together,
although they are both onstage, for most of the show. As a consequence,
we don't get to bond with the two as a couple, in the way we need to, for the powerful ending of the play (and no, I'm not going to tell you what happens at the end) to have the impact it should.
The all text/no touch relationship between Fournier and Nabea creates another problem. Both actors are left in the challenging position of having to engage and hold the audience by delivering 80 uninterrupted minutes of direct address.
The level of vocal technique required to deliver this many lines, and convey all of their inherent beauty, fire, and potency is exquisitely difficult to master. At present, neither actor has enough vocal fluidity or muscularity for the task. Fournier, who is a much more seasoned performer, fares better than Nabea, but she also flounders at times, with both rhythm and cadence.
It is early in the run of this complex show. Hopefully, the performers' suppleness in delivery will increase, as the run progresses.
The good elements of this show decidedly outweigh its issues. There were many young people in the theatre last night, enthusiastically getting down with Dickens, in
this lively version of an old, but still potent tale, of two lost kids,
at loose on the mean streets.
TWISTED is well worth seeing, for its resonant and committed telling of a powerful story, and for the inventive, stylized production.
TWISTED by b current down with The Factory Theatre, continues at the Factory Theatre Mainstage, 125 Bathurst Street, until February 22, 2015. Tues. - Sat 8: 00 pm, with Pay What You Can matinees Sunday afternoon at 2:00 pm. www.factorytheatre.ca for (416) 504 9971 or tickets and information.