Pre-War Passion Brings Brief Encounter To The Stage

Brief Encounter Live, Empire Cinema Haymarket ★★★★☆

Pre-War Passion Brings Brief Encounter To The Stage Brief Encounter Live, Empire Cinema Haymarket 4
Photo: Steve Tanner

Updating her 2007 live action staging of the famous romantic film Brief Encounter, maverick director Emma Rice opens out the story from the realistic three-hankie weepy at its centre, well-delivered by Isabel Pollen and Jim Sturgeon, to a railway-station romp with characters exaggerated to cartoonish effect but by seriously excellent actors such as Beverly Rudd’s gawp of a tearoom waitress, overseen by Lucy Thackeray’s starched-apron-over-voluptuous-femme-fatale manageress Myrtle.

Best of all, actor-musician Jos Slovick plays Rudd’s anxious suitor Stanley with delicious awkwardness contrasting his remarkable singing and musicianship in many of Noel Coward’s numbers which have been seductively rearranged at slow, bluesy tempi to give them new meaning and depth by Kneehigh's Stu Barker.

Photo: Steve Tanner

Pollen shows Laura’s many moods beautifully — and when she returns home at the end, opens the piano and mimes playing to the climax of the film it's convincing, but what a tremendous coup de théàtre it would be if Rice had actually found an actress who could play Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto.

Photo: Steve Tanner

The interactive film footage is well done, there are trains enough to satisfy the most diligent railway enthusiast and the breaking waves motif is clever. Maybe it’s a pity they couldn’t have intercut some of the actual David Lean film, it’s still a classic.

But, in its own way, so is this production.

Brief Encounter Live on Stage, Empire Cinema, 60-65 Haymarket, SW1 [Tuesday-Sunday]  Tickets £20-65. Until 2 September 2018.

Last Updated 14 March 2018