adapted by Daniel Jamieson from Charles Dickens.
Theatre Alibi Tour to 27 April 21013.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 March at Oxford Playhouse.
Dickens impressive as a matter of record.
In modern London, glimpsed in projected images across the stage, a shop full of curiosities has become vinyl heaven. Granpa Trench, its proprietor, is an ex-hippy whose particular addiction has put him in the clutches of the kind of moneyman he’d have despised in his youth.
It costs him his shop, and after an opening, in Daniel Jamieson’s adaptation, where loyal friend Kit Nubbles has searched the streets to bring young Nell home to grandad’s place, it’s increasingly the girl who has to take care of the old man as they wander, dispossessed, through southern parts of England (only one northern date on this tour, which Theatre Alibi undertakes in partnership with Exeter’s Northcott Theatre and Oxford Playhouse).
If it lacks the emotional extremes of Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop (far from his strongest novel, but one where Alibi can find contemporary social parallels) that benefits dramatic credibility. The villainous Quilp, a fiery force of evil recognisable by a phrase whenever he appears in the novel, becomes a smart-coated, cigar-smoking domestic sadist who must always have the power and show it in humiliating others.
It’s blander than the original but makes a more credible presence on stage, Derek Frood relishing his power from the moment he first, literally, crushes another creature. And continues doing so till his own ironic end. Other characters rightly place humanity over Dickensian exaggeration, though there’s still humour from the novel’s main comedian Dick Swiveller (here recruited to the rap brigade).
If comedy’s altered, sentiment is thankfully muted. The novel’s main fatality, at which, Oscar Wilde declared, no unstony hearted person could avoid laughing, has its softening theatricality, but is handled in an emotionally understated way; both acts end with a subdued grouping of well-intentioned characters.
It gives a sense of community huddled protectively together, whatever the cold social strains. Elsewhere, Nikki Sved’s production, using the seemingly thrown-together junk of Trina Bramman’s carefully-composed setting, develops a society in perpetual motion, with an ensemble cast working together; Sarah Kameela Impey’s Nell is unsentimentally honest and Malcolm Hamilton a suitable source of comedy as the ever-active Swiveller.
Nell/Marchioness: Sarah Kameela Impey.
Kit: Richard Holt.
Granpa/Mr Exe: Christian Flint.
Dick E Swiveller: Malcolm Hamilton.
Quilp/Short: Derek Frood.
Bet/Barbara/Klara von Jarlsberg: Jordan Whyte.
Sally Brass/Sam: Cerianne Roberts.
Director: Nikki Sved.
Designer: Trina Bramman.
Lighting: Marcus Bartlett.
Sound: Duncan Chave.
Composer/Music Consultant: Thomas Johnson.
26-28; 30 March 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm Audio-described Sat 3pm BSL Signed Thu Nuffield Theatre Southampton 023 8067 1771 www.nuffieldtheatre.co.uk
3-6 April 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Key Theatre Peterborough 01733 207239 www.vivacity-peterborough.com
11-13 April 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.15pm Lawrence Batley Theatre Huddersfield 01484 430528 www.thelbt.org
24-27 April 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2pm Haymarket Basingstoke 01256 844244 www.anvilarts.org.uk