Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop

October 21st, 2017

Review by Tony Carter – Showbill.ca Staff Writer

For anyone with a history of high school theatre productions, there is a certain adolescent nostalgia that comes with going back to see one years later. Sets and design are often more ambitious than their budgets allow, which demands that the creativity and talent of the cast and the crew carry the show. The Canadian College of Performing Arts’ rendition of The Old Curiosity Shop is a notch above high school productions in terms of quality, but it still has that feeling of nostalgia.

The Old Curiosity Shop is ostensibly the story of young Nell Trent as she tries to save her grandmother from crippling debt and meets a host of quirky characters along the way. In reality, both Nell and the titular shop have very little bearing on the course of the story. Scenes feel somewhat disconnected from each other, more like a series of vignettes taking place at the same time and space. This disconnect extends to the tone as well, with comedic and tragic scenes placed back to back. This is largely due to its process of adapting a novel that was originally published in episodic segments, but it still makes for an unusual whole. Even the framing device for the show, that this is a tour through a wax museum recounting the events of the story to the audience, gives characters large and small a proper introduction.

In an odd way, this adaptation preserves one of the greatest strengths of Dickens’ writing: the detailed richness of the world and the character’s that inhabit it. Despite the fairly simple production, the cast and crew mostly capture the larger-than-life quality that is essential to his writing. While Megan Littlejohn, the actor who plays Nell, is given unfortunately little time in the spotlight for someone billed as the protagonist, she still turns in an excellent performance. And the upside to such an unusual structure is that almost every other member of the cast is given the opportunity to show their strengths as well.

Special recognition is owed to several actors in particular: Dickens’ has a penchant for creating some truly terrifying villains, and bringing one to life is no small task. Vinny Keats is up to that task, and his sinister presence is sure to command the audience’s attention. Lauren Welchner also turns in a memorable performance with one of Dickens’ most used tropes, the “heroic but small boy.” Darian Ngai pulls triple duty as an actor, lead musician, and Foley artist and is largely responsible for creating the memorable atmospheres of certain scenes. And finally, Willie Knauff turns in one of the strongest and most memorable performances of the show as Dick Swiveller. It would be very surprising if we did not see his name in more programs very soon.

The Bottom Line

While the story’s structure is a bit odd, the energy of the cast makes its highs and lows all hit home. The Old Curiosity Shop is a comedic, tragic romp filled with some of the best parts of Dickens’ work. While some of the artists on display will need to spend more time honing their craft, there are some others who you can expect to see in larger shows very soon.

Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop

Presented by Company C

Adapted by Simon Webb

Directed by Sarah Rodgers

CCPA Performance Hall

October 19 – 22, 2017

 

A comedic, tragic romp
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