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

For the thee-ah-tah!

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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).

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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.

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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]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D

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