Broadway Features and Reviews
"Brief Encounter" Sets for Long Broadway Run
By Adrienne Law, Broadway Magazine
When it comes to cinema, there are few films more iconic than David Lean's 1945 masterpiece, Brief Encounter. Based on the one act play, Still Life by Noel Coward (who also wrote the film's screenplay), it tells the poignant story of how one chance meeting in a railway station waiting room leads to a passionate but painfully restrained love between doctor Alec Hervey and housewife Laura Jesson.
First appearing on Broadway in November 1936 as part of a collection of one-act plays called Tonight at 8:30, the show starred Coward himself as Alec, and his childhood collaborator Gertrude Lawrence as Laura. While he let the show run for just three months (notoriously easy to bore, he refused to perform the same show for any longer), Coward had sown seeds that would blossom into an essential part of British cinema, and that have now spawned the strange fruit that is Kneehigh Theatre's new interpretation, coming to Broadway this fall.
The production, adapted and directed by Emma Rice, combines elements of both Still Life and Brief Encounter with an eclectic mix of music and dance. Rice, whose work on the play earned her a Best Director nomination at the 2009 Olivier Awards, brings the show to Broadway following a sold out run in Brooklyn's St. Ann's Warehouse, and performances throughout the U.K.
In the lead roles of Alec and Laura are Tristan Sturrock and Hannah Yelland, with the rest of the ensemble including Dorothy Aitkinson, Damon Daunno, Gabriel Ebert, Edward Jay, Annette McLaughlin, and Adam Pleeth. McLaughlin, here playing the role of Myrtle, recently took part in the BBC Proms concert Sondheim at 80, a televised celebration of the composer's life work.
Critical reception to the show's previous runs has generally been positive, although some reviewers seem to have been taken aback by the company's striking and unusual style. Charles Spencer of the Telegraph suggested that "Some of the physical theatre routines don't work", but concluded that the production was a "witty and sympathetic homage to Coward's unforgettable portrayal of English reserve and romance".
Ben Brantley of the New York Times said the show left him "enlivened, enlightened and seriously moved". Speaking to the Guardian, Producer David Pugh claims that he and Rice "want every performance to be like a premiere […] we are going to have to alert people to the fact that, oh my God, this is something different".
It looks like theatre goers could be in for a unique night out.
Even though Kneehigh's Brief Encounter may not have been enough to convince some critics that theirs is a version equal to the movie so far; their innovative and striking presentation should attract Coward aficionados and first-timers alike. Their assertion that their show is "not the film" may go some way towards convincing people to judge the production based on its own merits, but with a piece so ingrained in the minds of the movie-going public, it may not be enough.
Whether the audience leaves echoing Laura Jesson's words, "I want to remember every minute. Always. Always, to the end of my days", or heads straight to the rental store to grab a copy of the original, remains to be seen.
Previews of Brief Encounter at Studio 54 begin September 10th. The official Broadway opening is on September 28th. Check out more features on Noel Coward, Brief Encounter, and the rest of the Broadway season right here on Broadway.tv and in the pages of Broadway Magazine.
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