Curiosity Shop head to Oxford Playhouse with Abingdon's Richard Holt in leading role (From The Oxford Times)
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Curiosity Shop head to Oxford Playhouse with Abingdon's Richard Holt in leading role
It is Dickens but not quite as we know him as Oxford Playhouse and Theatre Alibi reunite on an updating of The Old Curiosity Shop. The action in Curiosity Shop is shifted from early in the 19th century to present day and the featured business premises deal in vintage records rather than the “odds and ends” of the novel.
Its proprietor remains an elderly gentleman, never named, with an addiction to gambling and a granddaughter Nell. Reckless spending puts him at the mercy — none forthcoming — of a vicious loan shark called Quilp. The property is repossessed. Nell and Grandpa find themselves homeless.
Living rough and trailing through England they meet wide boys, Good Samaritans, con-men and buskers. Picaresque adventure abounds in the version by writer Daniel Jamieson, who has written previous Theatre Alibi shows, including versions of Michael Frayn’s Spies and Graham Greene’s The Ministry of Fear. Playful and inventive staging is promised, as well as an eclectic range of music.
The most famous thing about The Old Curiosity Shop — everyone knows of it — is the death of Little Nell. She was mourned as an almost personal loss by her ever-sentimental creator but figured in one of literature’s best quips when Oscar Wilde observed that one would have to have “a heart of stone” to read of her demise “without dissolving into tears. . . of laughter”.
So shall we laugh next week as Curiosity Shop reaches Oxford Playhouse? Does Nell (Sara Makeela Impey) indeed die? Richard Holt, the Oxfordshire-born actor who plays her big pal Kit, knows the answers but isn’t telling. “I don’t want to spoil it for you when you come and see it.”
He is careful about plot details, as actors always are, for the benefit of all the audience. As this is a ‘home gig’ for Richard: “Mum and dad usually take care of organising the buses and spreading the word at the old drama club.” ‘Mum and dad’ are Catherine and Richard Webber, she a teacher (formerly of The Manor prep school, Abingdon) and he a retired teacher (Abingdon School) and leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition on the Vale of White Horse District Council. The drama club is in the village of Drayton, home to the Webbers and (till they all fled the nest) their four children. Richard is the youngest. He made a memorable appearance with the club aged about 13 as the Artful Dodger, in Lionel Bart’s Oliver!
At around the same time, Richard performed at Oxford’s New Theatre, playing a schoolboy in The Demon Headmaster. He was back two years ago as a professional actor in a production of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman. By this time he had adopted the stage name Richard Holt (there is another Richard Webber in Equity) after London’s Academy of Live and Recorded Art.
Next week sees a significant career milestone for Richard with his first Playhouse appearance, a theatre he visited many times during his sixth form drama studies as a pupil at Abingdon School. He followed by three years reading biology at Bristol University before deciding science was not the life for him. “I did a few shows there, including Sweet Charity, West Side Story and Wild Party, and realised how much I’d been missing. Acting was what I really wanted to do.”
Notable achievements since then have included a nine-month stint in an acclaimed stage version of Arthur Ransome’s children’s novel Swallows and Amazons, seen at the National and on tour. Last year he was at the Edinburgh Festival in a musical The Three Musketeers with Barbershopera.
Speaking the day before Curiosity Shop opened at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre, Richard was confident.
“The story has been quite jazzed up but you can recognise plenty from the original. My character Kit, who works in the shop, is different. I tried to use the novel for reference, but it became obvious it wasn’t going to help so much.
“Some of the other characters are evil, deformed, horrible, the grotesques for which Dickens was known.
“Being at Oxford Playhouse will be important for me. As with many actors I have lots of theatres that I'd like to perform in, but there’s something special about the one you grow up with. After having seen so many high quality productions on the Playhouse stage, it’s a real privilege to get up there myself.”
Curiosity Shop Oxford Playhouse Tuesday to Saturday 01865 305305/oxfordplayhouse.com