Brief Encounter at The Playhouse Theatre | REVIEW

Bringing a classic movie to the stage is a popular, but nevertheless tricky, endeavour. Emma Rice’s adaptation, performed here by an amateur cast at The Playhouse Theatre, takes elements from the iconic David Lean film, and intertwines live action and cinematic projections.

Considering the confines of the incredibly limited space at The Playhouse, the team made a valiant effort to reproduce the feeling of being at a cinema, with ushers dotted around the packed out 80-odd seater auditorium, and what might be the slowest pull-down projector screen I’ve ever witnessed. The projections were used to good effect – used not only as set in a production that needed a lot of scene changes, but also as a video screen to really bring home the effect of the steam trains. The bespoke footage used featuring the cast was a lovely touch – I’d have loved to have seen it used more.

Jof Davies and Mary OBrien

Bringing to life the main characters of Alec and Laura are Jof Davies and Mary O’Brien, who both mastered the clipped accent of 1930s middle-class Britain perfectly. There was a quiet chemistry between them – theirs is an affair not of raucousness and passion, but of repression and the limits of their social conventions. Their stillness was nicely brought into contrast by the musical young love budding between Beryl (Helen Kennedy) and Stanley (Gordon Ritchie), and the freedom of Mrs Bagot (April Pardoe on fine form) and Mr Godby’s (the ever brilliant to watch Adrian Wyman) burgeoning relationship.

A strong cast all around, with confident performances from all. Some standout moments include Ingrid Heymann‘s Waitress and her amazing facial expressions, Barry Dougall‘s scene-stealing turn as Stephen, and Beverley Webster as the chattering Dolly Messiter.

It was an enjoyable show, although it felt like there were a lot of scene changes that could have been cut down or avoided altogether, which would have improved the pace somewhat. As it stands the production ebbs and flows instead of reaching any real crescendo.

Special mention must be made, however, to some of the ingenious solutions the set designer had come up with – including the blinds for a projector screen, and the fireplace hidden behind Mrs Bagot’s counter. The Playhouse has no wings, and very little backstage space, so putting on such a large performance with that level of efficiency must be admired. The costumes were also a feast for the eyes, truly bringing the era of the piece to the fore.

This big show was a big ask for a little venue, and they met the challenge with aplomb.

Brief Encounter runs at The Playhouse Theatre, Clare Street, until Feb 3 2018


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