Sunday, October 6, 2013


Adapted and Directed by Emma Rice
Kneehigh Production
Canberra Theatre
2 - 5 October 2013

Review by Len Power
The 1946 British movie ‘Brief Encounter’, is one of those perfect romantic gems that you can watch and enjoy over and over again.  Noel Coward expanded his one act play, ‘Still Life’ into a screenplay entitled, ‘Brief Encounter’ about a doomed love affair between two very proper English people bound by the behavioural standards of the time.  Directed by David Lean and starring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson, it became and remains one of the most loved romantic movies of all time.  Who would dare to try and turn it into a stage play and hope to retain its magic?

Kneehigh productions’ stage version of ‘Brief Encounter’ takes on the impossible and gets it right.  It’s already played in London and on Broadway with great success.  With the movie as a starting point and, using music, dance, puppetry and the latest in audio-visual technology, they have created a memorable entertainment that will please fans of the movie but also delight everyone else.

The international cast of six plus two musicians are a talented group.  As the lovers, Alec and Laura, Scotland’s Jim Sturgeon and Australia’s Michelle Nightingale effortlessly capture the spirit of the characters in the movie and their parting at the end of the play remains quite moving.  England’s Annette McLaughlin is very funny as the tough tearoom manager, Myrtle, putting on airs and graces that fool nobody but herself.  England’s Joe Alessi convincingly plays the dual roles of Fred and Albert and his passionate pas de deux with his love interest, Myrtle, is one of the funniest moments in the show as well as being very well danced.  Australia’s Kate Cheel as Beryl, Myrtle’s assistant in the tearoom shines in her ‘Mad About The Boy’ number and is a dry comedian with a great sense of timing.  USA’s Damon Daunno as her love interest, Stanley, is very funny and has a very appealing singing voice.  Musicians Dave Brown and James Gow, accompanying the cast throughout the show, are excellent.

One of the strengths of this production is its use of audio-visual technology.  With projection and film designers, Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington and sound designer, Simon Baker, working together, actors are able to jump in and out of film projected on screens with realistic sounds of railways stations of the period.  There was even a full size express train screaming at high speed across the stage to the delight of the audience.  Puppetry by Lyndie Wright works amusingly well and the designer, Neil Murray, has done excellent work with the clever set and period costumes.

The show was adapted and directed by Emma Rice who has taken a much loved movie and turned it into an imaginative, hilarious, tuneful but still touching and magical theatrical experience.  The original movie is a must see classic and now so is this stage production.

Broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ program on Sunday 6 October 2013.

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