Theatre review - Brief Encounter at The Lowry Theatre, Salford

PUBLISHED: 16:19 21 February 2018 | UPDATED: 17:54 01 March 2018

Isabel Pollen as Laura & Jim Sturgeon as Alec in Brief Encounter, credit Steve Tanner

Isabel Pollen as Laura & Jim Sturgeon as Alec in Brief Encounter, credit Steve Tanner


Brief Encounter, as done by producer Emma Rice, is a production that dazzles and dances in the most unexpected ways, says Kate Houghton

Isabel Pollen as Laura in Brief Encounter, credit Steve TannerIsabel Pollen as Laura in Brief Encounter, credit Steve Tanner

If you’ve never seen the film, don’t worry, as this production is about as standalone as you could wish and I can’t help thinking that Noël Coward himself, the man who just adored to raise eyebrows, would have loved it.

The original one-act play was named Still Life, was written in 1935 and was a short insight into a doomed love affair; doomed because the participants desperately needed to do the right thing, to not step from the morality of the age and of their own personas into a situation that neither were remotely able to live with. Despite falling deeply in love, following a chance meeting at a railway station, both characters choose to stop, to walk away, before they go too far. It’s a melancholy play, and David Lean’s haunting 1945 film is an intensely poignant replay of this, summarising the British sense of reserve, of control and of ‘keep calm and carry on with a stiff upper lip’ that kept the nation going during that period of unimaginable destruction.

Jim Sturgeon as Alec & Isabel Pollen as Laura in Brief Encounter, credit Steve TannerJim Sturgeon as Alec & Isabel Pollen as Laura in Brief Encounter, credit Steve Tanner

Emma Rice, of Kneehigh Productions, has a firm reputation for her love of the big, the bold, the taking advantage of every device available to her to construct a spectacle to enchant her audience. She has not failed to do so here.

I have to admit, I was totally taken by surprise. Knowing what I knew of the original, I did not expect so much vibrancy, so much colour and light and sound and…fun.

There are three love stories wound through this performance. Only one is futile. There is the young, first time love of Beryl and Stanley, played brilliantly by Beverly Rudd and Jos Slovic. Lots of giggles and chasing about, moments of sweetness and light. There is the more mature, experienced love affair of Myrtle and Albert, showcasing the grand talents of Lucy Thackery and Dean Nolan to perfection. Myrtle is chasing down her potential third husband, and there are no holds barred on this funny, fruity, really quite naughty flirtation with benefits.

The only love affair that will not, cannot, come to proper fruition, a happy ending if you will, is that of Alec (Jim Sturgeon) and Laura (Isabel Pollen). Both married, with children, both respectable, middle-class and upstanding members of their communities. Their romance is short, but intense. The scenes in which we see this take place balance the power of their feelings with the marvellous British reticence for which we are world famed. When truth does spill forth, it’s in rushed and passionate declarations of love, words spilling and breath heaving – lids soon quashing.

Rice’s production adds song and dance, humour and slapstick, moments of hilarity between the poignancy and despair of the core story. She brings in a marvellous device of using a cinema screen, both referencing Lean’s film and giving a grander perspective to the on stage action, through which our live characters can step into black and white celluloid form. The action takes place on stage and off, in front of the curtain and in shadow form, across the whole stage and up high, and at one point dangling from wrist straps high above the stage (though this part could perhaps be a little more balletic than scrambling!)

She has also assembled a great cast. Word must be given of the brilliant Jos Slovic, whose musical accompaniment to the scenes of love and loss is just superb.

A grand performance brilliantly staged. If you can get a ticket, do.

Brief Encounter runs at The Lowry from Brief Encounter until Saturday 24 February 2018

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