Brief Encounter, Cinema on the Haymarket, London
An English Tragedy, Palace, Watford
Ring Round the Moon, Playhouse, London

A fine romance: when the lights go down

the fun really starts

the fun really starts

Theatre

Kate

Bassett

Moving pictures were once expected to kill off fusty old stage plays. Well, here's a turnabout. The crowd-pulling physical theatre troupe, Kneehigh, have now taken over a cinema off Piccadilly Circus.

You might momentarily wonder if you are in fact at the flicks, circa 1945, when you fetch up at director Emma Rice's reworking of Brief Encounter, the classic Noel Coward screenplay. Ushers in jaunty pillbox hats bustle down the aisles, ensuring you're snug in your red-plush seats and, as the lights dim, the credits roll on the big screen in crackly, vintage monochrome.

Notwithstanding, you'll surely rumble that this is to be multimedia fun as the ushers swish their torches around, like a DIY spoof of Twentieth Century Fox's searchlights. Then, Coward's romantic protagonists, Alec and Laura – the extramarital sweethearts who yearn to break free of middle-class respectability – jump up from the front row. She slips through a slit in the screen, magically materialising in the picture.

Next the screen flies up to reveal a wide stage, and Rice's theatrical vision of the railway station, where the trysts begin and end, is far more playful and dreamlike than in the movie. The ushers have turned into porters, lolling on the steps of a girdered bridge and doubling as a jazz band.

The station café's tables are scattered among mounds of coal, and the counter is, surreally, the piano from Laura's suburban home (design by Neil Murray). There's a wonderful expressionistic moment when Tristan Sturrock's intent Alec and Naomi Frederick's repressed, tweedy Laura are first smitten. Having exchanged a little small-talk on the platform, they turn to walk away but, breathtakingly, fall backwards as if felled by a wave.

Caught in the arms of other passing actors, they flip over in mid-air and upright again, heading off in a frightfully British way as if nothing had happened. Later, when unspoken desires and despair surge through them, their bodies arc over the teashop chairs while grey ocean breakers – projected on the far wall – curl and crash.

Some disappointments arise, for Kneehigh fans as well as for these thwarted lovers. The physical expressionism oddly peters out – a would-be climax, swinging from two chandeliers is peculiarly clumsy. The poignancy of the central love story is diluted too as the affairs of the lower-class characters are expanded into not-so-brief encounters, often in the style of music-hall routines.

Yet the overall result is charmingly buoyant, with numerous inspired touches. Amanda Lawrence is a fabulously funny clown as the gawky waitress, Beryl – all knobbly knees and lusty cravings. Indeed, everyone's comic timing is impeccable. Stu Barker's musical arrangements – with sultry Latin rhythms creeping in – are always a delight. Though some film aficionados might wish Rice were more doggedly faithful to the original, all the song lyrics are Coward's own, interwoven with dialogue from the screenplay and also his earlier stage version. Moreover, the fact that Rice is a liberated woman – inventively retelling this love story as if it's a popular folk tale – has its own kind of romantic daring.

The week's other two shows were peculiarly fusty with British Theatre seemingly trapped in some 1940s time warp. The septuagenarian writer Ronald Harwood has just won a Bafta for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly but, alas, his latest stage biodrama is structurally creaky.

The subject of An English Tragedy is historically interesting per se: the arrest and hanging, in 1945, of John Amery, an ex-cabinet minister's delinquent son accused of high treason for broadcasting Nazi propaganda, like Lord Haw-Haw, and recruiting British PoWs to fight the Soviets.

Jeremy Child and Diana Hardcastle give stalwart performances as Leo and Bryddie – John's pater and mater – both trying to keep a stiff upper lip but exploding with guilt and grief. There's also the twist that John's loathsome anti-Semitism and ultimate self-destruction may have been rooted in patricidal jealousy – his father being covertly Jewish.

However, Di Trevis's cast is stuck on a lumpen set – a giant swastika designed by Ralph Koltai – while John's backstory is churned out, with a shrink and a jailer serving as near-redundant feeds. Richard Goulding's unstable, brattish and flamboyantly bisexual John is a welter of mannerisms: a permanently limp-wristed, tedious motor-mouth. What's most disturbing – whether you take it as depressingly authentic or a dramatic omission – is that no one counters his racist slurs.

Lastly, we have Sean Mathias's West End revival of Ring Round the Moon. Jean Anouilh's high-society satire, from 1947, almost bored me rigid in the first half, as sour, sniffy aristocrats, rich industrialists and their swanky unfaithful mistresses shuttle in and out of a grand conservatory.

A ball is planned, with twin brothers and a Cinderella-style hired impostor causing confusions of identity. The female vamps are merely infuriating caricatures, complete with cigarette holders held aloft. If I had heard one more gratingly forced cut-glass accent I would have been forced to scream.

Only Peter Eyre, as the long-suffering butler, has a more soothingly silky voice, and only Angela Thorne, as the chateau's grand dame, is wittily snooty. Christopher Fry's perfumed translation of French one-liners mainly comes across as lame.

No one has much psychological depth or real edge. The games played promise to become mind-bendingly Pirandellian, but never do.

In spite of intimations that the callous and the romantic twin might be flipsides of the same man, JJ Feild (playing both) does little more than skim the surface. Mathias's only concept is to dress the characters up Dior-style haute couture, dropping Anouilh's belle époque setting. Ah well, at least Anouilh rises to one memorably iconic scene when the hired Cinderella (Fiona Button's Isabelle) and the market-controlling tycoon, Messerschmann (Leigh Lawson), rip up stacks of bank notes in a fit of idealistic glee. Scorn-ing affluenza, they willingly almost spark a Great Depression.

'Brief Encounter' (0871 230 1562) to 22 June; 'An English Tragedy' (01923 225671) to 8 March; 'Ring Round the Moon' (0870 040 0046) booking to 24 May

News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate