Eastern Angles’ festive show gets its Dickens’ plots in a Twist

An eccentric theatre troupe, an orphan turned aspiring playwright, a curious shop... entertainments writer WAYNE SAVAGE finds out what the Dickens is going on at the Sir John Mills Theatre this Christmas.

KNOWN for their anarchic comedy spoofs, Eastern Angles have reunited the team that sent up Jane Austen in Mansfield Park and Ride and let them loose on Charles Dickens.

Brendan Murray’s Round The Twist sees aspiring actor and playwright Oliver Nicklefield desperate to see his thrilling masterpiece, based on his own eventful life story, performed in front of an eager audience.

Trouble is he doesn’t have anyone to play sneery Obadiah Snoop, delectable Dorabella, feisty Foggoty and the mysteriously hirsute Miss Haversack.

Enter the Crumbles family and friends, an eccentric travelling theatre troupe with egos almost as big as his. Herded in the direction of the Old Curiosity Shop, they happen across a real-life audience – me and you.

Dickens and Christmas go together so well, says director Ivan Cutting, he was an obvious target for lampooning.

It’s not the first time either, with Eastern Angles staging Mr Pickwick’s Victorian Christmas when they first moved to Ipswich’s Sir John Mills Theatre; followed by Mr Pickwick Goes To Town.

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“It’s not just a spoof of Dickens; it’s a spoof of how we think about him. When we did Park and Ride; in many ways that was a spoof of the TV versions of Austen. Similarly with this I think we’re trying to find all those things we think we know about Dickens and spoofing some of them.”

Like traditional Dickens’ tales, it takes enormous twists and turns, with no end of coincidences; something the actors comment on during the play within a play.

“Our lead character is sort of an amalgam of Copperfield, Nicolas Nickleby, Tiny Tim, Oliver Twist who’s had a rough childhood being an orphan and is raised up expecting a benefactor to arrive at any minute.

“We spliced that in with The Old Curiosity Shop, there are some curiosities, madcap sort of Victorian inventions and things. We get a chance to create the Old Curiosity Shop in some flamboyant fashion which is a lot of fun to do.”

Parcels and props are still arriving daily. As we speak a chandelier has just been dropped off and is being assembled in the work room below.

Next door the set is undergoing construction. Last night the crew were experimenting with sending smoke through some columns; successfully it turns out.

“Sometimes it doesn’t [work],” Ivan laughs. “Sometimes you have to go ‘oh right, okay this is never go to work and find a different way.”

If rehearsals are this much fun, the show should be a cracker.

“We have quite a good laugh. I think it’s important; you can’t do something like this without having a laugh because that’s what you’re trying to make other people do.

“The first test of anything is whether it makes us laugh. If it doesn’t then it hasn’t got much chance of making somebody else laugh.”

Despite just a few days away from opening night, the show is still evolving. Christmas shows, he adds, are always created in the rehearsal room.

You stuff them with bits and pieces like a festive cracker, but once the actors start working with the material things change. Interacting with the audience throws up diversions, too.

“Audiences love it when you take into account their nature. We quite like in jokes; we always say things like there’s a few slow people tonight and we can choose [whatever place] we want.

“A Christmas show without the reactions of the audience would be inert. I’m not sure we quite give them the chance to change the direction of the piece, but we do have certain responses depending on what they say.”

The show, which Ivan describes as for kids over 25, runs at the Sir John Mills from November 23-January 7; the perfect venue he adds.

“It’s almost like private party because it’s such a small auditorium, you’re so close to everything going on and it’s very much about the five actors and them using the audience; working with them. Not that people get picked on or anything like that.”

He’s keen to stress you don’t have to be a Dickens’ expert to get it.

“Absolutely not, in fact anyone can come to it completely fresh; but I suspect actually most people who come to it saying they don’t know nothing about Dickens will actually watch it and go ‘oh yes, I do’.”

Round The Twist will also run at Woodbridge’s Seckford Theatre from January 10-21.

“It’s nice to take it out and about and it provides a challenge and keeps everyone on their toes,” he smiles.

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