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Sign of the Times: Department Store Becomes Life-Sized Dollhouse

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The Co-op was an abandoned department store in Brighton, England. Then a theater group came along and turned the place into a mad, surrealist stage set, throwing the spotlight on a decrepit old building in which, until a few years ago, the dramatic climax was: Ivory pantyhose or ecru?

The theater group’s called dreamthinkspeak, and the recently concluded play is Before I Sleep, a riff off Anton Chekhov’s masterpiece The Cherry Orchard. The updated play unfolds as a stroll through the building, its cracks and pipes dressed in a series of fantastical set pieces, from a Russian manor (above) and a snowy landscape (below) to a thicket of candles for teatime and fish tank ballroom (complete with waltzing deep-sea divers).

Chevhov’s original play was about an aristocratic Russian family forced to auction its estate — and the estate’s treasured cherry trees — after losing power in the Emancipation Reform of 1861. Before I Sleep similarly sets the old world against the new. Except instead of turn-of-the-century Russia, we’ve got the backdrop of millennial consumerism. There’s even a shiny Russian department store in the real (but derelict) department store. Oh, and CCTV screens everywhere.

It might sound like “art-school tricksiness with a budget,” as one U.K. Times critic put it, and maybe in some ways it is. Nevertheless, it’s a spectacular collision of theater and design — not to mention a great reuse of seemingly unusable commercial space. And we’ve only scratched the surface here. For more images and descrips, visit the blog of architectural photographer Jim Stephenson.

[H/T: Bldgblog; images courtesy of Jim Stephenson]

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