A most modern curiosity

Curiosity Shop is at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton, from Tuesday until Saturday.
Curiosity Shop is at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton, from Tuesday until Saturday.
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Portsmouth-born Charles Dickens has had his novels adapted for the stage hundreds of times, and Theatre Alibi is taking on another with The Old Curiosity Shop as it brings it into the 21st century, complete with record stores and burger bars.

The production, directed by Nikki Sved, will be at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton, from tonight until Saturday (excluding Good Friday).

Curiosity Shop tells the story of Nell Trent, who lives with her grandfather in The Old Curiosity Shop, a vintage record store. When the shop is repossessed by Quilp, a vicious loan shark, Nell and her grandpa find themselves homeless.

Whilst living rough they meet con men, Good Samaritans, wide boys and buskers - in pubs, burger bars and doss houses across the length and breadth of England.

Created as a co-production with Exeter Northcott Theatre and Oxford Playhouse, Curiosity Shop is adapted by Daniel Jamieson, who has adapted previous successful Theatre Alibi productions including Spies, The Ministry of Fear and The Crowstarver. 

Daniel explains: ‘In Dickens’ original, the Old Curiosity Shop is an antiques shop owned by Little Nell’s grandfather. In our version, the action has been transplanted to the present and the shop has become a record shop selling mostly old vinyl.’

For the team, it felt like the play had many relevant things to say.

‘It tells the stories of several young people whose lives are undermined by the weakness and the malice of older people.

‘That felt very relevant now because of the tough time young people are having at the moment getting an education and a job.’

Daniel adds: ‘Also, the novel has brilliant characters – very colourful and vivid – and it felt like they would work well on stage.’

Curiosity Shop features a soundtrack from across modern Britain including David Bowie, Elvis Presley and Professor Green – but adapting the Victorian text into a 21st century context wasn’t easy.

Daniel says: ‘It became a sort of game or a puzzle to imagine what the modern version of a Victorian travelling waxworks show or Punch and Judy were, for example. Dickens will always feel immediate and relevant if you look at it carefully enough, but setting the story now helped me to inhabit it more fully imaginatively.’

He adds: ‘Hopefully there will be lots of colour, vivid characters and a vividly told story. And lots of cracking music too.’

Tickets cost £10.50 to £19 from the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton, on (023) 8067 1771 or go to nuffieldtheatre.co.uk