Director: Emma Rice
Author: Noël Coward
Composer: Stu Barker
Details: Cinema Haymarket, Haymarket, SW1Y 4RL
Tube: Piccadilly Circus
Performances: Tue-Sat 8.00 pm, Matinees Wed and Sat 3 pm, Sun 4 pm
Running time: 2h10
In short: A modernised, multimedia take on a Coward classic that shows what happens when unsustainable passion sparks between lovers.
In full: Buy tickets to this show and the buzz will filter in before the curtain rises. Brief Encounter, based on David Lean's 1945 movie of the same title (which was based on Noël Coward's one-act play Still Life from the previous decade), has gained sturdy to glowing reviews since it opened in February.
Rice stays with the famous storyline as play-by-the-rules Laura meets Alec, a married doctor who makes even viruses sound riveting, at a train-station café and soon finds herself testing the boundaries of both her marriage and her conscience.
The main differences in this version are in the presentation.
Members of Kneehigh Theatre wear 1940s usher outfits to lead guests to their seats before the opening curtain, while a makeshift band strums to romantic oldies. The show opens with Laura and Alec acting like an arguing couple in the audience of a post-war cinema.
Bits of the plot are broken up by cast members performing Coward tunes, such as the tarty Alice Is at it Again, in front of a drawn curtain, and black-and-white film clips become something of an extra character in the show. Speaking of other characters, two other (much less tormented) couples balance the unsettling feeling of the main pair's doomed relationship. The antics of goofy waitress Beryl are undoubtedly one of the highlights of the play.
The combination of elements in the performance feels slightly disjointed at times, but the emotional pull between Laura and Alec (Naomi Frederick and Tristan Sturrock) is compelling enough to overstep any clutter. Rice has taken the skeleton of a classic and made it into an off-beat hit for today.
- Jill Hilbrenner
- '[T]his Brief Encounter manages to have the best of several worlds in an experience that is all the more effective for artfully straddling stage and screen.' Paul Taylor, The Independent
- 'Far from being the crude hatchet job I'd feared, the show largely proves a witty and sympathetic homage to Coward's unforgettable portrayal of English reserve and romance' Charles Spencer, Daily Telegraph