Latest Review – Brief Encounter [The Lowry, Salford Quays] [UK Tour]


The Lowry, Salford Quays

Until Saturday 24th February, 2018

It is somewhat hard to believe that more than a decade has passed since Kneehigh Theatre’s sumptuous and dazzling production of Brief Encounter first premiered at Birmingham Repertory Theatre back in October 2007. Though now making its long awaited return to the UK stage for its 10th anniversary revival, it is safe to say the global smash-hit has lost none of its magic, power and joyous theatrical innovation.

Emma Rice’s enchanting and dreamlike mixed-media adaptation of David Lean’s great, Oscar-nominated British classic – itself co-adapted by Noël Coward from his own 1936 one-act play, Still Life (taken from the ten-play cycle, Tonight at 8:30) – beautifully blends aspects from both sources, celebrating (and gently parodying) both mediums equally, and fusing additional musical elements in the mix. Simply put, it’s a masterpiece; so tender, so cleverly rendered, so moving.

Despite the now ageing source material, Brief Encounter‘s poignant tale of yearning, sacrifice and forbidden love feels so unusually fresh, and what proves fascinating is the way Rice steadily juxtaposes the subtleties of the central narrative with unexpected (and often surreal) moments of humour and music.

Though the central narrative is still driven by the fateful meeting of married mother of two, Laura Jesson, and married father,  Dr Alec Harvey, in the refreshment room of the fictional Milford Junction railway station – and, of course, the events that follow – Rice’s production, like all Kneehigh productions, is very much an ensemble affair, and does an excellent job in exploring, and contrasting, the hopes, dreams and romantic endeavours of a varied supporting compliment. A sense of contemporary social constraints and class consciousness is touched upon briefly, but the moral values and scandalous nature of the situation for the time are given greater consideration.

One particularly clever device Rice employs is the use of video projections – notably crashing waves – to reflect and represent the emotions, confusions and hidden passions that lurk just beneath the surface.

The sturdy duo of Brief Encounter alum, Jim Sturgeon, and newcomer, Isabel Pollen, deliver strong, poignant performances as Alec and Laura, respectively, while the versatile supporting cast, led by the exceptional quartet of Dean Nolan, Lucy Thackeray, Jos Slovick and Beverly Rudd prove real standouts.

Taking Coward’s songbook as a starter, composer and musical director Stu Barker’s whimsical compositions add both emotional depth and fluidity to the piece, and the slick actor-musician company perform the score with impressive flair.

Within its imagination and artistry, much of Brief Encounter‘s stagecraft is so simple, yet so effective for it, and the collective minds of designer Neil Murray, lighting designer Malcolm Rippeth, sound designer Simon Baker, and video designers John Driscoll and Gemma Carrington, not forgetting Rice and Barker, combine once again to deliver a sumptuous, visionary production that never fails to captivate, enchant and move.

Running Time: 1 hour and 40-minutes (approx.), no interval

Final Performance at the The Lowry, Salford Quays: Saturday 24th February, 2018

For more information, and to book tickets, please Click Here.

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