Stage Shows

A “Twist” on a Charles Dickens Classic

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In Diversionary Theatre’s re-imagining of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, Twist recites – or sings, more appropriately – the story’s most recognizable quote: “Please sir, I want some more.” However, he’s not asking for more food from the overbearing Mr. Bumbles. In this version of Oliver Twist, he’s begging Bumbles for more lashings in a bondage-themed song called “Whipping.”

The Diversionary show, simply entitled Twist, is full of many twists. Indeed.

twist2Set against the backdrop of Victorian England, Twist recasts Oliver Twist (played by Jacob Caltrider) as a lonely, attractive young man searching for love while surviving in the outrageous London underworld. Twist weaves dark comedy, Victorian erotica and a bit of gender-bending along with a rocking musical score into the power of Dickens’ famous tale.

“It’s not so much modernizing it, but putting a new twist on it – a very fun, fetish, S&M, gay, dark twist,” says Tom Zohar, who plays The Artful Dodger.

“We are very excited to continue our tradition of doing an inventive, new musical during the summer,” says Dan Kirsch, Diversionary’s Executive and Artistic Director. “Twist is going to be lots of fun for our audience.”

From the Workhouse to the Undertaker’s to the streets of London, Dickens’ original story is still here. The characters are a bit older, however, each with new characteristics exclusive to this production. For example, Dodger is not a pickpocket. “He is a street hustling, candy-addicted, goth freak, of sorts,” Zohar explains. With the help of the flirtatious Dodger, Twist is drawn into a lair of prostitutes, ruled over by Fagin, a stunning male dominatrix with a nasty temper.

“There is a more of a sexual undertone … no, not an undertone … a sexual overtone to the whole story,” Zohar says. “There is a lot of discovering of sexual identify, discovering what it is you like and what you don’t like, and how to be ok with what you like sexually and the taboo that is attached to fetish and bondage.”

“I would say the show is about self acceptance, going with what you like,” adds David McBean, who dons a flowing red wig and killer stilettos as Fagin. “‘A little bit of what you like will do you good,’ to quote the show.”

Along with the provocative pleasures of Twist, there is still a compelling story of risk and redemption. It’s still grounded in the essence of the Dickens original, which keeps it from spinning out of control into another goofy gay romp.

“My character get really jealous, because he want something for himself,” Zohar says of Dodger’s affection for Twist. “Fagin takes everything from me. Once the Dodger meets Twist, it kind of changes. Now he’s found something he wants for himself, and that changes his view of how he should live his life.”

“Twist disrupts Fagin’s life. Everyone’s lives, really,” McBean adds. “While he is a kinky bitch, Fagin still has a heart.”

“Dickens probably never imagined drag divas, bondage, shoe fetishes and dream ballets when he wrote Oliver Twist, and it is truly amusing to revisit the classic with these new – ahem – kinks added in,” wrote Jena Tesse Fox for, commenting on the show’s earlier productions. Fox also criticized the show, saying it needed a few revisions.

Whether they took Fox’s comments literally, or the show is simply evolving with each staging, the creators have revised the show for the San Diego production. Creator Gila Sand and composer Paul Leschen have even added new songs to Twist’s score.

“The music is amazing,” McBean said. Just as the show takes fetishes from all aspects of kink, the score also takes its cue from all aspects of music. There are rock songs, pop numbers, ballads, disco melodies, musical theatre and more.

“There’s a great balance, but they are all flavored in rock n roll,” Zohar adds.

Music. Dickens. Bondage. Twist is a twist on Oliver Twist. Indeed.

Presented by Diversionary Theatre
July 11 – Aug. 9
Tickets: $31-35

Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd. (In Hillcrest)
Box office: (619) 220-0097

  • Listen to musical clips from Twist on the official show website,, including the “Whipping” song.

davidmcbeanDavid McBean on playing Fagin

Fagin, in this particular realm, is violent. It’s not just about a sexual thing. It’s about power. He’s a very dark character.

I had a hard time connecting with my character. I don’t know anything about fetishes. I don’t know anything about S&M. My journey has been what are the actions about these characters, what are they trying to do, and how are they accomplishing it, and trying to find a connection that way.

tomzoharTom Zohar on playing the Artful Dodger

I’m used to playing the good boy, and Dodger is not a good boy.

The gothic sensibility is not foreign to me. It’s something I like very much. So getting into the darker aspect of the show, I actually found very appealing. Yet getting it into my body, that took a while.

As far as the sexual stuff, I think it’s kind of fun.

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