The Gate Theatre’s production of Dickens’, The Old Curiosity Shop, in a new version by director Alan Stanford, is set to be the alternative to Panto in Dublin and it is scheduled to run until the end of January 2009.

This is not a lavish production, and you miss the initial location, the shop of the title and Stanford’s direction and Eileen Didd’s set design, do not help overcome this first obstacle. The novel is sprawling and episodic and follows Little Nell and her Grandfather, on her escape from London from the clutches of the evil Quilp. Too often in this production, you are left with a recognisable London backdrop and the clever inserts have too unified a design style to suggest the diverse locations. More often than was comfortable, a static staging reduced the pace.

But what made this production marvellous, was the many excellent characterisations, even if Kit was reduced to a cipher. In panto terms, Mal Whyte and Michael James Ford, carried the action along like Broker’s men and helped Barbara Brennan’s many entrances as Mrs. Jarley and Narrator. Maude Fahy was suitably sad as Little Nell and Nigel Anthony, a sweet but mysterious Grandfather.

Sometimes the excellent characterisations made you forget the gaps in the story as presented. Stephen Swift was an affable Dick Swiveller. Barry McGovern was a nasty and menacing Brass and Donna Dent was memorable as Sally Brass and Mrs. Quilp. Stephen Brennan had a heroic style as the rescuing Single Gentleman and Jill Murphy was a wow as the servant and The Marchioness.

Mark O’Regan was superb as the evil Quilp and why he wasn’t boohed by the audience long before the curtain-call puzzled me, but they are well-behaved at the Gate, I suppose. O’Regan makes up for any shortcomings this production has