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A CurtainUp London London Review
Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter
Tristan Sturrock (reprising his role as Alec and Hannah Yelland as Laura
(Photo: Pavel Antonov)
The London production has moved into Brooklyn's St. Ann's Warehouse, and a bushel of critical raves making tickets scarce as the perennial hen's teeth . Herewith the current production notes, followed by our London critic's review which wasn't quite as ecstatic.

Production Notes
(Noel Coward's) Brief Encounter
Directed by Emma Rice
Cast: Hannah Yelland (Laura), Tristan Sturrock (Alec), Joseph Alessi (Fred/Albert), Dorothy Atkinson (Beryl), Annette McLaughlin (Myrtle), Stuart McLoughlin (Stanley), Daniel Canham (Bill/Ensemble) and Eddie Jay and Adam Pleeth (Musicians).
Sets and costumes by Neil Murray
Lighting by Malcolm Rippeth
Projection design by Gemma Carrington and Jon Driscoll
Music by Stu Barker
Sound by Simon Baker Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. St. Ann's Warehouse(38 Water Street, 718.254.8779) From 12/10/09; opening 12/08/09; to 1/03/10.
Tickets from $30 to $80.

This misery can't last. I must remember that and try to control myself. But now, I don't want that . . . ever. I want to remember every minute, always, always to the end of my days. . . — Laura
It is an essentially silly idea, is it not, to convert a cinema that was once a theatre, to play a stage version of NoŽl Coward's great romantic film classic Brief Encounter. But when you give this project to Kneehigh Theatre you can be assured that there will be many who are fans of their lively reinterpreting of the classics. I think if you put the film into its context as an expression from the brilliant Coward of "the love that dares not speak its name" then some of the repressed emotion makes more sense.

This is a mixed media production with some projection of black and white video starring the Kneehigh cast in mock ups of scenes from the film but projected onto a vertical slatted screen for the live actors to disappear into or emerge from. Emma Rice has developed the film to include some music hall songs written by NoŽl Coward and there are two other couples who have a romantic encounter beside Alec (Tristan Sharrock) and Laura (Naomi Fredericks). Myrtle (Tamzin Griffin) the dragon who runs the station buffet finds a romance with station master Albert (Andy Williams) and Myrtle's sidekick and quirky waitress Beryl (Amanda Lawrence) finds a boyfriend in Stanley (Stuart McLoughlin).

The cast work very, very hard and I liked the sensitivity of the scenes with Alec and Laura. Naomi Fredericks, who was seen in the Brecht season in the play about iron at the Young Vic, again shows how suited she is to the 1940s genre and Tristan Sharrock has a natural gentility. But I found the rest very distracting, maybe not helped by the child behind me who kicked the seat continuously during the musical interludes or the pervasive smell of moth balls as women in the audience had got out of storage their real fox stoles, you know the ones with a head and paws, in a recreation of 1940s cinema wear. Amanda Lawrence's Beryl is the main comedy interest as she scoots in and out of scenes on a child's scooter but her vaudevillian balloon popping dance to the song "Alice Is At It Again" seems merely vulgar.

When the lovers embrace, the rest of the cast hum the famous Rachmaninov melody to a backdrop of crashing waves in monochrome, ensuring our reaction is more cheesy clichť than high romance. Before the show and during the interval the audience is serenaded by a band of grown men wearing Bell Boy outfits. As the main line, fast boat train thunders through the station, the cast judder and shake in response. The costumes are of the period but Tamzin Griffiths is made to wear a large bustle to give her an oversize derriŤre. The set has a railway bridge and is adaptable to make a hotel dining room as well as the station buffet.

The Carlton Theatre built in 1927 was known for the comfort of its seats and for the brilliant sightlines from each and every one of them. The seats are still very comfortable but it is a large theatre and I cannot help wondering whether this version of Brief Encounter would have worked better in a more intimate space. As it is, the comedy seems to swamp the romantic tragedy.

Perhaps this Brief Encounter just isn't my cup of station buffet tea? For those wanting more authentic NoŽl Coward, The Vortex opens this week at the Apollo on Shaftesbury Avenue.

Adapted and directed by Emma Rice from the film by NoŽl Coward

With: Naomi Frederick, Tamzin Griffin, Amanda Lawrence, Stuart McLoughlin, Jess Murphy, Adam Pleeth, Adam Randall, Ian Ross, Tristan Sturrock, Andy Williams
Design: Neil Murray
Lighting Designer: Malcolm Rippeth
Projection Designers: Jon Driscoll, Gemma Carrington
Original Music: Stu Barker
Sound Designer: Simon Baker
Running time: Two hours with one short interval
Box Office: 0871 230 1562
Booking to 22nd June 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 3.30pm 17th February 2008 performance at The Cinema On The Haymarket, 63- 65 The Haymarket, London SW1Y 4RL (Tube: Piccadilly)

Musical Numbers: Any Little Fish, Put Out My Shooting Suit, Waters, I'm No Good At Love, Alice is At It Again, the Wide Lagoon (Bora, Bora), Go Slow Johnny, Like A Romantic Schoolboy, A Room With A View, The Misery Can't Last.
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