A Brief Encounter at Haymarket


Just the experience of being at the Cinema Haymarket’s press night for Brief Encounter is a spectacle in itself, and that’s before the show has even started.

MEMBERS of the theatre company, dressed in classic black usher and usherette attire, guide people to their seats. A chirpy jazz band performs romantic ditties as the audience – many of whom are dressed in appropriate Forties costumes – shuffle in. Butterkist toffee popcorn is available, and a spoof classification certificate appears on the big screen: “suitable for viewing by the incurably romantic”.

Director Emma Rice’s latest creative stage effort has very cleverly adapted Noel Coward’s 1945 film into a play, experimenting with both the stage and screen mediums with additional material from Coward’s earlier one-act play Still Life (1936).

Rice’s Kneehigh Company adds some original little twists to the play: the lovers swing on chandeliers, the sound of rainfall is created by a watering can on tin, Laura’s children are impersonated by puppets and actors walk into the giant screen, immediately transformed into a black and white, one-dimensional film image. Touches like this really take what could have been a straight-forward, mundane play and made it into an artistic masterpiece.

This touching love story begins at the Milford railway refreshment room where our central characters meet after a bit of grit flies into the eye of respectable housewife Laura (Naomi Frederick). Tristan Sturrock’s doctor Alec comes to her rescue, and from there begins a brief romantic encounter to a beautiful live soundtrack, which is very often performed by the onstage actors and musicians.

Naomi Frederick is a sincere and sensitive Laura, capturing the character’s pain and passion in this frustrating romance. Sturrock is equally as touching in his performance, portraying Alec’s doctor as a charming and innocent gentleman caught up in a poignant, unconsummated love affair. Also worth a mention is Tamzin Griffin who is very funny as Myrtle, the fluttery refreshment room assistant.

Brief Encounter is an enjoyable success with some theatrical flourishes that make the whole experience that extra special: Champagne is served at the entrance, tea and cucumber sandwiches are dished up at the interval and some filmed comedy sketches are projected onto the screen. It is an inventive and faithful homage to Coward’s unforgettable film.

First published on The London Word, March 2008.
© Abbey Stirling