Kneehigh Theatre’s adaptation of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter is a wonderfully joyful romp driven by force of nature to some poignantly emotional gravitas.
Set in 1938 Brief Encounter tells the story of a chance meeting between a married woman and a married man and the jubilation, love, rendezvous, conflict and yearning which transpires as a result of the titular ‘brief encounter’. The story and its period does draw parallels with the difficulties faced by Prince Edward and Mrs Simpson but also that of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles. Thank god the rest of us live in more liberated circumstances (and times).
This production is a multi-media event of the highest quality. The staging alone is worth the price of admission. Excellent use is made of the backdrop and a screen front of stage offers some pre-recorded moments perfectly enjoined with the live drama. On stage scaffolding is augmented with a platform that raises and lowers at its peak, inviting speculation and urgency in keeping with the script. Michelle Nightingale swinging from a chandelier is just one highlight of this well-thought-out set.
Aspects of vaudeville, surrealism and even gimmickry are enjoyably effective scene changes while emphasising nuances in the script.
[pull_left]British poet Alfred Tennyson once wrote, “Tis better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all”. Noel Coward and Kneehigh bring that aphorism home with a tickle and a wallop.[/pull_left]
Not one cast member in this show fails in any way. The acting, singing and physical theatre is delivered with a thoroughly successful approach of engaging their audience with the frolic on stage.
Local actor Kate Cheel as Beryl and New Jersey born Damon Daunno as Stanley play each other’s love interest with all the blissful innocence of children skipping down the street hand in hand.
South Australia’s own Michelle Nightingale blossoms in the principle role of Laura. Nightingale tosses and turns through a troubled mind and a tortured heart in a captivating performance of world-class standards.
Jim Sturgeon conveys a thoroughly dignified account of Alec, rendering the mores of the times with consummate professionalism.
Joe Alessi deepens the pathos of the play with his appearances as Laura’s husband Fred. But it’s in his role as ticket collector Albert where he and Annette McLaughlin (as Myrtle) bring down the house in a glorious vaudevillian duet. McLaughlin as Myrtle is well . . . the last time I saw a woman sashay her arse like that it was Elle McPherson walking up the steps of Adelaide’s then Hyatt Hotel.
The live music underlines much of this show, played with an intuitive sensitivity adding a melodic, visceral beauty on par with the cast’s flawless performance. Every cast member presents the emotional neuroses of some of Coward’s best songs with a deceptively facile professionalism.
British poet Alfred Tennyson once wrote, “Tis better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all”. Noel Coward and Kneehigh bring that aphorism home with a tickle and a wallop. There is a beguiling poetry cascading throughout this production of Brief Encounter – its testament lies in the effect brought about in The Playhouse audience. Both young and old couples began warmly entwining during the show’s final 30 minutes. Only separating to stand up (smiling broadly) and applaud loudly at the play’s conclusion. Proving beyond doubt this show will be a memorable highlight of the STCSA’s 2013 season.
In introducing this production to Australia, the Brookman boys continue to serve the State (and the State Theatre Company) very well indeed.