Choreographer and Director: Tony Adigun
Filling in the gaps of literature’s most famous characters can be a way to reinvigorate classic texts and develop new work. James Bond has taken a reflective turn in the Daniel Craig era, there are origins stories and reboots across the superhero landscape, and literary prequels and sequels are as popular as ever. So, Tony Adigun’s dance theatre piece, now available via The Place Online, is part of a notable trend, giving one of Dickens’ most vivid characters a fleshed-out back story.
Filmed in 2017, Fagin’s Twist reimagines the life of the famous collector of orphan vagabonds. Trapped in a workhouse with no talent for manufacturing, the young Fagin (Joshua James-Smith) dreams of escape along with best friend Bill Sykes. Emerging onto the dirty, crime-ridden streets of London, Fagin quickly establishes a gang of pick pockets including a bright prospect called Oliver, but when friend Bill is distracted by love he is left to manage alone.
Adigun’s 80-minute show is a strange mix of overlong acted scenes and dance sequences that focus only briefly on the formation of Fagin’s character. The creation of the industrialised factories of nineteenth-century Britain is strong, as Yann Seabra’s vision of steel gantries and wood sit well with Adigun’s repetitively robotic choreography, a heavy tapping beat strongly evoking the mechanical fervour and populous mass of the Industrial Revolution.
Seabra’s visual aesthetic is quite mixed, with nods in the costumes to A Clockwork Orange and Peaky Blinders initially and later 1984 and steampunk. Narrated by the Artful Dodger (Aaron Nutall), this clash of styles is felt throughout the piece as Maxwell Golden’s awkward script falters. Why any speaking was considered necessary becomes increasingly hard to fathom as Adigun’s choreography tells the story perfectly well, resulting in an imbalance, a story with far too much exposition and not really enough plot.
Retelling the story from Fagin’s perspective is an interesting concept and explaining his earlier life gives the show a unique fascination in the first half. But all too soon, this becomes a rehash of the well-loved novel that only just differentiates from Lionel Bart, while the central section spends too long on the work of Fagin’s gang, the rough and tumble of their lives and the petty crimes that become their forte across several segments that feel too similar.
But when Adigun is left to design the storytelling through dance there are some extraordinary moments. Dani Harris-Walters is given some incredible choreography as Bill Sykes and a series of low circular spins require particular control. Likewise, the bristling fury of Bill is evoked with rolling shoulder movements and stomping hip hop moves that emphasise his aggression, while a wonderful section with Jemima Brown as Oliver beautifully portrays the battle they fight for Nancy’s attention as the frustration builds. And no words are required.
The Place have used several different cameras positioned to show the full stage, close-ups and a low, front-on view which gives the show plenty of variety, helping to suggest the melee of the city in some of the more vibrant sections, but sometimes the choice of cut doesn’t help narrative clarity. Fagin’s Twist is full of styles mixing hip hop, classical ballet, gymnastic movements and even clowning but it gets distracted by a convoluted script, so that neither Fagin’s backstory or the overall message remain in focus.
Available here until 15 June 2020