Prepare to be wowed: Kneehigh’s clever, quirky and catchy production of Brief Encounter is a modern polishing of a classic play sure to generate some oohs and ahs, such is the richness of visual splendour and the lively performances.
The production is a melange of the original Still Life play of 1936 by English playwright and performer Noel Coward and the later film version in 1945. Today’s version of Brief Encounter is a comedy-drama set in 1938 England in a rail station cafe and other landmarks. The plot focuses on two main characters: Laura (Michelle Nightingale) and Alec (Jim Sturgeon) – two married people who fall in love, their passion fighting against the tide of self-respect and decency. Their heart- wrenching affair is juxtaposed against the young love of Beryl (Kate Cheel) and Stanley (Damon Daunno), and the second-time-around lovers of tea lady Myrtle (Annette McLaughlin) and railway man Albert (Joe Alessi). All stories involve “how will it end for them?” and “What does love mean in our lives?”
Even before the show starts, the actors and performers create a classical and cheerful ambience with pre-show music and mingling as the crowd piles in to their seats. Looking around the audience it seemed mostly baby boomers and beyond – though the Y and X generations would definitely get a kick out of this version of Brief Encounter. The story progresses through the standard catalyst-crisis-climax model and along the way are some classic tunes such as Mad about the Boy, with a bit of dancing and background music live from the stage. The mostly UK cast and backstage production gurus bring creativity to every element: set design, lighting, film projection, direction, costumes and music galore.
This creativity contributed to the smile on my face for the funny bits all the way through, and for the more dramatic moments, while I didn’t shed a tear, I was mesmerised by the other features. There’s enough wow factor from the production quality to outdo today’s Hollywood blockbusters of the 3d variety. It’s as if the designers and director all got together with a challenge ‘how can we amp this up and yet stay true to the story?’ For example the musical elements are given a modern edge, such as using an electric guitar, but not in a head-banging way; everything is subtle and complementary. The vocals too have a tender quality from Damon Daunno who has a Jeff Buckley-like range that is soft and yet penetrating in clarity.
It’s hard to bond with the actors given the large theatre space, but they always projected their voice and exaggerated their body language to include all and provide a more intimate and personalised feel. The highlight actor is Joe Alessi who channels the verve of Albert in some groovin’ moves then switches to the steadfast humbleness of Laura’s husband Fred.
I hope the word spreads about what an entertaining marvel this production is – yes the dialogue may seem quaint, but it’s in a quirky way.
Brief Encounter is not some moth-ball blah blah version of a golden oldie play – this is a sophisticated, shiny and oh-so entertaining show that bubbles, yet doesn’t over froth with brassy glare.
Kneehigh Theatre presents
adapted from Noël Coward’s play Still Life and screenplay Brief Encounter
Venue: Canberra Theatre Centre | Civic Square, London Circuit, Canberra
Dates: 4 – 5 October 2013
Tickets: $89.90 – $35.90
Also touring nationally