Review: Round The Twist – Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, carollers singing, snow falling and Charles Dickens. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without any of this traditional festive images but Dickens will never quite be the same again after Eastern Angles irreverent alternative to conventional panto fare.

Budding author Oliver Nicklefield has engaged a troupe of travelling actors to stage a play based loosely on his life. For any lawyers reading connected with the Dickens estate we should state that any resemblance to characters and plots of those familiar Dickensian tales is purely coincidental.

For non-lawyers, the pure joy of spotting those references to Dickens classics make this a literary feast, full of humour, wit and, of course, more than its fair share of cheesy jokes.

Nicklefield’s tale (penned in fact by Brendan Murray) follows the tale of Tiny Tom (named apparently after his less than sizeable assets) – a strapping lad with an inexplicably posh accent and superior teeth – on his journey to find his benefactor and the much-vaunted set of glowing testimonials. En route from the Old Curiosity Shop to Creek House and Australia to seek out the mythical Bah Humbugs that could make his fortune, he meets a wealth of oddly familiar characters, the cobweb festooned Miss Haversack, her uppity ward, Dorabella, the Jammy Dodger – all the time missing his one true love Little Mel, always one step behind the dastardly Obadiah Snoop.

Can Tiny Tom find his testimonials? Will Little Mel get her man? And will it all live up to the pair’s great expectations? In the end, Oliver Nicklefield has in fact got himself in a bit of a twist and it seems old mutual friends may not be all they seem. As Tom flits between London and Ipswich, this tale of two cities becomes every more complex.

In these hard times, it is impressive to see Eastern Angles coming up with such an inventive show. Nicklefield/Murray’s script is packed full of madcap humour that manages to send up the festive conventions without losing plot or character. Yes, the situation may have an irreverent quirkiness to it but it’s played with total conviction by a compact but on-form company.

There are delightful performances throughout; Sally Ann Burnett’s lusty Dorabella, Gabriella Douglas’s more coquettish Dorabella, Greg Wagland’s monstrous vision of Miss Haversack who turns out to be the perfect Christmas Carol in her bleak house and Zach Lee’s creepy Wolverhampton Obadiah threatens to be the ultimate Scrooge. Joel Sams holds the whole madcap caper together as both Nickefield and Tiny Tom, ultimately revealing his glowing testimonials to all and sundry.

Ivan Cutting’s snappy direction matches the fast and frenetic pace of the script, making full use of Ian Teague’s imaginative and impressive staging. Richard Taylor’s music gives echoes of G&S parody while also providing a touching duet for young Tom and Mel.

Eastern Angles can always be relied upon to provide a counterpoint to the saccharine-laden and formulaic traditional festive theatrical offerings and, in Round The Twist, Oliver Nicklefield’s Bleak Little Tale of Two Mutual Expectations. And Son, they not only claim the reward for potentially the longest title of the season but also set the bar extremely high for other festive shows that follow. Always anarchic, this year they meld this anarchic comedy with a strong tale that is surely one of their finest Christmas creations and will surely live long after this (lengthy) three-location run.

A perfect start to the festive season and a demonstration that you don’t need huge sets, C-list soap stars and ancient panto jokes to create theatrical Christmas magic. God bless us, every one!

Picture: Round The Twist Company, Photo by Mike Kwasniak

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