The wondrous thing about the new version of Brief Encounter by Kneehigh Theatre, now playing in a cinema (converted into a theatre) in London's Haymarket, is the way the director, Emma Rice, has taken the main themes from Noël Coward's play Still Life and David Lean's classic film version and added her own statement about the times in which the original drama surfaced, without imperilling the original structure.
Rice has framed the dialogue with music-hall-type songs, most of Coward's own well-known songs and even some of his poetry, cleverly scored by Stu Barker. The multi-talented cast sing, dance and perform songs that are seamlessly woven into the Coward dialogue of impossible love.
She has introduced stylised movement in some important scenes to illustrate the growing feelings of tenderness between Alec and Laura. For example, in a hotel, after a secretive lunch together, the two leads swing on chandeliers, touching, but not consummating their love.
There is broad and bawdy comedy from the staff and the stationmaster, who fancies the manager. Then we have a giggle at Laura's middle-class, prissy friends, who bump into the couple on one of their furtive meetings.
A film sequence showing waves and a female swimmer making her way underwater is used to suggest Laura's bid for emotional freedom from her dull husband.
When she returns to her domestic duties, Laura goes to see her children, whom Rice shows as small puppets manipulated by adult members of the cast.
The love between Alec and Laura, who meet by chance at the station cafe, is portrayed with such empathy and feeling, you cry again as you did when you saw Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard part in the 1945 film. Naomi Frederick and Tristan Sturrock elicit the same emotions and are just as good in these roles, if not better.
This is an evening of stimulating ideas that so enhance the script that the audience is completely absorbed and transported back in time. Rice's production is not only a play about the lovers, it is also about the station staff. Tamzin Griffin makes a bossy buffet manageress with a heart of gold and her sex-pot assistant is performed with relish by Amanda Lawrence. Stuart McLoughlin is the kindly stationmaster.
They all fill their roles with distinction. With tea and rock cakes handed out at the interval and the gorgeous usherettes in their pill-box hats, the illusion of earlier days is complete. I haven't had such a good time for years.
To 22 Jun (08712 301 562)
Arnold Pearce, Retired advertising executive, LondonReuse content