EVEN by the standards of Dickens, Bleak House is a complicated read.

Taking place over many years, with myriad characters, interwoven subplots and with a long-running legal case at its heart, this classic of English literature was first published as a 20-part serial.

So you might think it would be nigh on impossible to stage in a confined space with a capsule cast of just five. Not so for Oxford’s Creation Theatre Company, however, who have brought the 19th century tale to life – not on stage, but in a bookshop.

All the action takes place among the shelves in the reading room of Blackwell’s Bookshop, in Broad Street. And far from coming away scratching their heads, audiences have been lapping it up, hailing it the best of Creation’s impressive repertoire.

“The original book is overblown, dramatic and, its fair to bet, a lot of people haven’t read it,” says Creation’s general manager Charlie Morley.

Read more: The Wedding Present's David Gedge brings the Power of Love

“It is intricate. It takes place in London and Lincolnshire, and characters keep meeting people who they don’t know they are related to.

Herald Series:

“We are usually forced to read it in one go, but it actually came out in instalments like a soap. And we have taken all that and cut it down to a two-hour play with just five actors – albeit with lots of doubling up.”

Writer Olivia Mace has stripped the story back to create a fast-paced, light-hearted musical adaptation which follows a group of young people from Lincoln’s Inn London, to Dedlock Manor in Lincolnshire, introducing us to a cast of wonderful characters along the way.

Read more: REVIEW: Educating Rita still heartwarming and utterly relevant 40 years on

She laughs: “It’s not confusing but it is intricate – and you do have to slightly give up on knowing who everyone is all the time!

“If you know the story, you are at a slight advantage, but otherwise just go with the flow.”

The production is beautifully staged in Blackwell’s Norrington Room, with its three miles of bookshelves housing law, theology, philosophy and politics.

“It follows their previous staging of Dracula in the same venue. Though Charlie admits a full-length Dickens play is an entirely different proposition, and relies on some slick direction by Debs Newbold and fabulous acting by the cast of Morgan Philpott, Joanna Holden, Bart Lambert, Eleanor House and Sophie Jacob who are also all accomplished musicians.

“It crosses the line to ‘musical’ when someone is singing a thought,” she chuckles.

“It’s really fun. It sounds like it could be bleak and grim, but it’s a story of salvation and a great Dickensian comedy.

Read more: Foals and Supergrass play home turf at this Oxfordshire music festival

“It deals with morality, with stark depictions of poverty, but also pokes fun at rich people.”

Inevitably, some of the traditionally male roles are taken on by female actors, but, says Charlie, that makes it more fun and interesting and, importantly, easier to follow, with greater differentiation between characters than would be the case with an all-male cast.

And, she says, the action whistles along, crunching a story which would take 22 hours to read – and between eight and 12 hours to listen to on an audiobook – into a manageable two hours.

“And once you’ve watched the show, you might even want to go and read the book!” she says. “Which will be available from the bookshop on the night!”

And, she says, the location is perfect, with the basement given a Dickensian overhaul by Creation associate designers Ryan Dawson Laight and Ashley Bale.

“Blackwell’s is an incredible venue, with the audience surrounded by law books. It’s wonderful to sit in the dark, after hours, surrounded by that wealth of knowledge – there’s a feeling of doing something you are not allowed to do.

Herald Series:

“Also the Blackwell’s audience and Creation Theatre’s audience are quite similar – you can see that just by looking around.”

The production comes as The Personal History of David Copperfield, written and directed by Armando Iannucci, continues to make a splash in cinemas.

“The time seems to be right for Dickens,” says Charlie.

“His stories seem to resonate with people in today’s political climate.

“People will really enjoy it; it’s a real rock opera. And guess what? Bleak House is not bleak at all!”

Lucy Askew, Creation’s chief executive, encouraged people to come along – whether fans of Dickens or not.

“This is the first full Dickens novel we’ve performed on stage and it’s proving to be really rich source material for a theatrical version,” she says.

“With all the eccentric characters brought to life in front of you it’s easy to be whisked away into smoggy Dickensian London.

Herald Series:

“We absolutely love returning to Blackwell’s, there’s a unique atmosphere to watching a show nestled among miles of bookshelves, as well as the simple pleasure of having four floors of bookshop to yourself after hours!”

Performances take place until March 7, from Monday to Saturday. Evening shows at 7.30pm. Full schedule and tickets available from Creation’s Box Office on 01865 766266 or creationtheatre.co.uk