THEATRE: Brief Encounter – Kneehigh (STCSA season 2013) – Dunstan Playhouse – 4.5K

Brief Encounter-46What do you do if you meet the love of your life and it’s not the person you’re married to?

UK based theatre company Kneehigh (as part of the State Theatre Company of South Australia’s 2013 season) presents an adaptation of Nöel Coward’s Brief Encounter; a film from 1945 which was itself a reworking of one of Coward’s earlier one-act plays, Still Life. Their staging is an engulfing mash-up of the stage and screen versions.

For Laura (Michelle Nightingale) and Alec (Jim Sturgeon), a chance encounter in the tearoom of a railway station one Thursday afternoon in 1938, leads to a romance that neither were expecting and neither are in a position to freely enter into. Despite both being in amicable marriages, with young children, their passion overcomes their moral scruples and what may have begun as an innocent friendship develops into a fully-fledged affair. Nightingale and Sturgeon are superb; capturing the desperate longing for each other that must be publically restrained and the guilt which accompanies the joy of spending time together.

They are supported by an incredibly talented ensemble cast who each bring to life believable and endearing characters, with authentic chemistry. We witness the blooming relationship between tea-girl Beryl (Kate Cheel) and confectionary seller Stanley (Damon Daunno), and the wooing of formidable tearoom manageress Myrtle (Annette McLaughlin) by platform guard Albert (Joe Alessi). While Beryl and Stanley’s romance illustrates the innocence and free spirited nature of young love, Myrtle and Albert, two lovers of a similar age to Laura and Alec, do not have the burdens of familial responsibility to prevent their courtship. Each couple thus provides an interesting contrast to Laura and Alec’s positions and also some welcome comedic interludes in what is otherwise an emotionally intense play.

Brief Encounter-20Emma Rice’s direction is varied and stimulating. Much of the energy and setting is created by the physicality of the actors and movement is effectively used to highlight the inner turmoil of the characters. The multimedia facets of the show (projection and film by Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington) are blended cleverly and seamlessly with the live action. The pace is kept up through-out, with scene changes covered by performances of appropriate Coward songs – sometimes by the cast as a sort of Greek Chorus (additional accompaniment by Dave Brown and James Gow) and sometimes directly by characters, as part of their storyline. This adds a certain charm to the show, bringing to mind the romantic musicals and the magic of the cinema in this bygone era.

While this new imagining may not sit so well with ardent fans of the original play or film, it is a beautifully constructed and highly enjoyable exploration of the story.

Kryztoff Rating: 4.5K

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