Dickens with a twist


To culminate at Charles Dickens’ bicentenary in 2012, we devised the three-year project Dickens With A Twist in collaboration with The Rochester Grammar School in 2010. Dickens With A Twist is a multi-artform project that has brought together over 250 children, young people and adults from across the Strood, Chatham and Rochester areas of Kent. Four of Dickens’ child characters – Jo from Bleak House, Estella from Great Expectations, Jack from Oliver Twist and Little Nell from The Old Curiosity Shop – were studied and then updated with a modern twist, inspiring a libretto and score pulled together by Create’s professional writer Jo Ingham and composer Sam Glazer.

In the first year, our musician Lucy Forde and dancer Beth Coleman worked with pupils from The Rochester Grammar School (RGS) and Bradfields School (BS) to compose short instrumental and dance pieces. Using the life and times of Dickens, the participants created an original soundtrack and used it to create a choreographed piece. The soundtrack was passed on to Sam to be incorporated in the final score. In the second year, Jo worked with pupils from All Faiths’ Children’s Community School (AFCCS), Luton Junior School (LJS) and RGS in creative writing workshops inspired by the four child characters. Working in mixed school groups, they studied the characters in their original context and updated them to the modern day, creating a plot that explored how their lives are intertwined and writing poems and prose for each character. The pupils’ original writing was pulled together into a libretto by Jo. Sam then worked with pupils from AFCCS and LJS to create songs for each of the four characters. He was joined by Peter Truin, another musician, for workshops with RGS and Grange Park School (GPS) pupils, who composed four instrumental pieces for each character’s location in the libretto. Using the musical material as a starting point, Sam then composed an original score for the libretto. In the final year of the project, Sam and Peter returned to work with pupils from RGS and GPS to create the final musical ‘windows’ for the narrative, all of which will be performed live today.

Alongside these creative workshops, RGS Choral Director Carolynn Woodman, RGS Director of Music, Andy Millest, and The Cantium Singers conductor Simon Tatnall taught to choirs from RGS, AFCC, LJS and Cantium the choral work composed by Sam. RGS’s art department also led puppet-making workshops with staff and pupils from AFCC and LJS, as a result of which each school created two giant puppets of the child characters, which are on display today.

The entire project culminated on Tuesday 3 July in a mass performance at Dickens World, which was a testament to the creativity, enthusiasm and spirit of all the performers and staff!