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A CurtainUp London Review
This is a mixed media production with some projection of black and white video starring the Kneehigh cast in mock ups of scenes from the film but projected onto a vertical slatted screen for the live actors to disappear into or emerge from. Emma Rice has developed the film to include some music hall songs written by NoŽl Coward and there are two other couples who have a romantic encounter beside Alec (Tristan Sharrock) and Laura (Naomi Fredericks). Myrtle (Tamzin Griffin) the dragon who runs the station buffet finds a romance with station master Albert (Andy Williams) and Myrtle's sidekick and quirky waitress Beryl (Amanda Lawrence) finds a boyfriend in Stanley (Stuart McLoughlin).
The cast work very, very hard and I liked the sensitivity of the scenes with Alec and Laura. Naomi Fredericks, who was seen in the Brecht season in the play about iron at the Young Vic, again shows how suited she is to the 1940s genre and Tristan Sharrock has a natural gentility. But I found the rest very distracting, maybe not helped by the child behind me who kicked the seat continuously during the musical interludes or the pervasive smell of moth balls as women in the audience had got out of storage their real fox stoles, you know the ones with a head and paws, in a recreation of 1940s cinema wear. Amanda Lawrence's Beryl is the main comedy interest as she scoots in and out of scenes on a child's scooter but her vaudevillian balloon popping dance to the song "Alice Is At It Again" seems merely vulgar.
When the lovers embrace, the rest of the cast hum the famous Rachmaninov melody to a backdrop of crashing waves in monochrome, ensuring our reaction is more cheesy clichť than high romance. Before the show and during the interval the audience is serenaded by a band of grown men wearing Bell Boy outfits. As the main line, fast boat train thunders through the station, the cast judder and shake in response. The costumes are of the period but Tamzin Griffiths is made to wear a large bustle to give her an oversize derriŤre. The set has a railway bridge and is adaptable to make a hotel dining room as well as the station buffet.
The Carlton Theatre built in 1927 was known for the comfort of its seats and for the brilliant sightlines from each and every one of them. The seats are still very comfortable but it is a large theatre and I cannot help wondering whether this version of Brief Encounter would have worked better in a more intimate space. As it is, the comedy seems to swamp the romantic tragedy.
Perhaps this Brief Encounter just isn't my cup of station buffet tea? For those wanting more authentic NoŽl Coward, The Vortex opens this week at the Apollo on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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