December 3, 2010

Brief Encounter

The Kneehigh Theatre Company's production of Brief Encounter is currently playing at Roundabout's Studio 54 for a limited run. Having seen the production last Friday night (11/26), it's quite difficult to pinpoint if it's a musical or if it's a play with music but suffice it to say, it's an enchanting night in the theatre. This genre defying show is a marriage of the original Noel Coward play Still Life and classic film, Brief Encounter with original Coward songs interspersed throughout.

Laura (Hannah Yelland) and Alec (Tristan Sturrock), both in an affectionate but passionless marriage to different people, meet by chance at a teashop in a train station in England (it did remind me of the movie Falling In Love with Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro). This meeting sparks their interest in each other and both agree to meet again. They soon become troubled and discover that their innocent encounters have started to develop into deep love.

This classic story is made even more captivating because of the staging by Emma Rice. She weaves scenes from the classic film into scenes in the play seamlessly enhancing the production. There's one scene where Alec and Laura goes to the cinema. In the scene, both are seated in the orchestra (yes, with the audience) while this black and white projection screen is on stage, Laura suddenly gets up and decides that she should leave so Alec tries to plead to her to stay a while. At the same time on the screen, it shows the last scene of the film where Fred (Laura's husband) is talking to Laura to stay with him. Laura (now on stage) is as if having a conversation with both Alec and Fred at the same time. She then proceeds to leave and walks into the projection screen (it's apparently a slotted scrim) and suddenly pops into the movie scene. It's pretty ingenious. As if this woman is seeing a film about her own life and her dilemma is played out for the audience both on stage and on the movie screen.

Ms. Rice chose to have a live acoustic band on stage to play the Noel Coward songs. The songs have been perfectly placed so that they heighten up the emotions that plays out on stage. Ms. Rice also used this wave (as in ocean wave) projected to the backdrop. This wave would be projected and the actors on stage (wherever they were) would act as if they were being swept by the wave and this theatrical metaphor happens whenever a tremendous wave of emotion would sweep the characters. Again, a great way to convey heightened emotions and a beauty to see.

Hannah Yelland and Tristan Sturrock are both heartbreaking as the mischanced lovers. Annette Maclaughlin is hilarious as Myrtle the tearoom owner. But this production stands out also because of it's ensemble of talented actors who not only take turns playing different instruments but have great voices (very much like John Doyle's production of Sweeney or Company). My favorite was Gabriel Ebert who also plays Stanley.

As a whole, the story combined with the acting, the songs, the set and theatricality takes you back to a romantic bygone era in England and for an Anglophile like me I would gladly travel there anytime.

Some photos that night:

poster boards of the review at the lobby of Studio 54

It's the time for shows to raise funds for BCEFA and for the cast of Brief Encounter they offered a mini concert after the show. They sang about 4 songs which included We Are Family and Time After Time. Here's a short clip of Time After Time:


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