Empire Cinema Haymarket, London – until 2 September 2018
A uniquely theatrical experience and a love letter to film, Brief Encounter, first seen in London in 2008, is back with a fantastic adaptation by Emma Rice. Complete with uniformed ushers, popcorn and pink curtains, Brief Encounter is a quaintly wonderful show that works perfectly in the Empire Cinema.
Laura and Alec meet by chance in a train station cafe when she gets some grit in her eye and he kindly helps her remove it. They bump into each other a few more times before ending up spending an afternoon at the cinema together. This story is set in 1938 and both are married with children, so whilst they continue to develop feelings for each other and fall in love, they (and the audience) know that it will not end well.
Of course, times have changed but an affair between two married people is still unacceptable to most. However, I felt that by only seeing Laura’s (Isabel Pollen) home life with her less-than-sensitive husband, it made it more acceptable in a way. Seeing both of the families, or seeing families who were ‘happy’ would’ve added a depth to the show that was missing at times.
However, this is a sweet show helped by the brilliant set from Neil Murray which brings stage and screen together. A number of levels, nooks and crannies provide space for movement as well as surprise when actors just appear.
Kneehigh’s composer Stu Barker has written some wonderful pieces to accompany Noël Cowards writing and to set the scene. Especially wonderful is Jos Slovick’s performance of So Good at Love towards the end.
Jos is one half of another couple in the show, the quirky young lovers Stanley and Beryl (Beverley Rudd). The two are a wonderful pair and capture the feeling and excitement of young love perfectly. The final couple in the show are the refreshment room manager, Myrtle Bagot (Lucy Thackeray) and Albert Godby (Dean Nolan) who are memorable, hilarious and a joy to watch. Myrtle’s faux accent which slips in and out is absolutely brilliant. The contract between the three couples is jarring at times but cleverly highlights how all relationships vary.
As the leads, Isabel Pollen and Jim Sturgeon are captivating. Suitably reserved and excited at times they create a moving and heartbreaking relationship which blurs the lines between film and reality.
Overall this is a lovely revival which uses its story and surrounding thoroughly to its advantage. Fun, moving and at 90 minutes, not too brief, it’s a gem of a production.
Brief Encounter is at the Empire Cinema Haymarket until September 2nd.
photo credit: Steve Tanner