Toronto’s Factory Theatre presents Twisted, a play that’s a gritty, raw, intense reimagining of Oliver Twist
Playing now as part of Factory Theatre’s season is Twisted, presented by Factory Theatre & b current. Factory Theatre promises ‘theatre with grit’, and this show certainly delivers on that promise. Less a retelling of Dickens’ classic Oliver Twist than a complete reimagination of it, the show is undeniably gritty, raw and intense.
Throughout the show, penned by Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman and Joseph Jomo Pierre, we read text messages being sent between the characters. There are tons of projections. There are countless sound effects and lighting changes. At times it feels a bit like sensory overload – but in an almost necessary way. It adds to the discomfort, to the intensity, to the moment.
Nance (a mesmerizing Susanna Fournier) and Ollie (Ngabo Nabea) walk us through a heartbreaking story that involves sex, drugs, cell phones and white puffy coats. They don’t speak much to each other directly, but there is still a clear connection between them. Both performances are strong – hers laced with raw desperation, his with passion and hope. Fournier completely embodies the character, from her hairstyle to her physicality, right down to her thigh-high boots.
The set, designed by Denyse Karn, is unique and powerful and allows the characters to play on all sorts of different physical levels as they navigate several emotional ones. Simon Rossiter’s lighting design plays an incredibly important role in setting the mood of the show, and is complemented by the haunting and sometimes frantic atmosphere created by Richard Lee’s sound design. I don’t think there was a technical element in the show that I wasn’t impressed by, and that didn’t aid in transporting me into Ollie and Nance’s far-from-perfect world.
The delivery and pacing grew on me and the friend I was with as the show went along, though it did take a while for us to settle into the somewhat jarring flow of things. Nabea’s Ollie speaks entirely in a spoken word poetry-like cadence, rhyming and almost rapping all of his lines. While at first it was disconcerting, interrupting the rhythm of Fournier’s Nance, as the show went on it became also comforting, calming – needed. We found ourselves caught up in their pain, wanting to reach out and help these two people to connected through hardship, addiction, loneliness and loss.
The show does include some familiar characters from Dickens’ classic – Oliver, Nancy, Sikes, Dodger – and explores similar themes, but it really is twisted in its own fresh way. It’s new, it’s different, and it takes you out of this world and into difficult, dirty, desperate places. My friend pointed out that even with a basis in a decades-old story, it’s still relevant. Even with all the modern elements added in, at the core it still tells a simple, important story and asks big, important questions about life, about loyalty, about love.
The show almost feels disorienting at times – like being in a maze and not being able to find your way out, as Nancy describes in the latter half of the show. Can we, she wonders, find our way out of life’s maze? I don’t know the answer, but if seeing theatre like this – theatre that challenges, stretches, overloads the senses – is part of my life’s maze, I’m okay to remain lost in it for a while longer.
- Twisted is playing until February 22nd at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street)
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8PM, with 2PM matinees on Sundays
- Tickets range from $23 – $45 and are available online or by phone at 416-504-9971. Student/Senior/Arts Worker discounts, as well as PWYC Sunday matinee tickets are available
Photo of Ngabo Nabea & Susanna Fournier by Racheal McCaig