Sunday, December 20, 2009

Noel Coward's Brief Encounter

"Noel Coward's Brief Encounter" presented by Kneehigh Theatre at St. Ann's Warehouse, December 8, 2009

(photo by Pavel Antonov)

In a lovely production mixing film, theatre and British music hall style numbers, the tale of two noble lovers comes to life in Brooklyn.  Director Emma Rice has adapted the classic 1945 film, which actually began as part of Noel Coward's cycle of ten one-acts, "Tonight at 8:30" entitled "Still Life" from 1936.

The event begins in the lobby as the ensemble, dressed as uniformed movie ushers, entertain the waiting audience with musical numbers from the 1930s and 1940s, accompanied by a snare drum, ukelele, and trumpet. 

Ms. Rice's staging makes great use of simple stage elements, which reminded me a bit of the staging technique used by Maria Aitken in another British film adaptation of "Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps" in 2008.  She does take a slightly different approach, using black and white film sequences which the actors appear to jump in and from for various transitions.  The film relies heavily on Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, though Ms. Rice makes quite judicious use of its lush music, at one point using a choral vocalise of one section when emotion runs high.  The impact is breathtaking.

Leading the cast is a truly lovely and touching performance by  Hannah Yelland as Laura.  There's a bit of Dorothy McGuire about her, which adds a sweet layer of vulnerability.  Tristan Sturrock's Alec, dashing and handsome, matches Ms. Yelland's intensity, but edges near melodrama from time to time.  Their story is cleverly supported by an eclectic ensemble chorus playing all of the supporting roles to often hilarious effect. Special mention goes to Dorothy Atkinson, small in stature, but bringing in some of the biggest laughs of the evening.

The show has been extended to run through January 17, 2010.

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