Brief Encounter

The Nol Coward movie returns as an enchanting and super-theatrical play.

  • SWING TIME Yelland and Sturrock defy gravity.

SWING TIME Yelland and Sturrock defy gravity.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

They're cheering—cheering!—at Studio 54, as England's Kneehigh Theatre pulls off one clever and adorable coup de thtre after another. Having caught Brief Encounter last year at St. Ann's Warehouse, I'm not quite so agog when Hannah Yelland runs through a movie screen and then appears in the black-and-white film, or so ravished when she and Tristan Sturrock literally swing from chandeliers as video champagne bubbles up behind them. This highly theatrical adaptation of Nol Coward's one-act Still Life, which he subsequently dilated for the screenplay of Brief Encounter, uses music-hall interludes, multimedia and cabaret to tell an old story in newish fashion. And audiences love it. Far be it from me to demur; the show is perfectly charming and uplifting, a night of devised-theater whimsy performed by a very likable cast. But you do have to wonder if those effusive Roundabout subscribers should perhaps get out more.

Gaining greater experience in life and the price it exacts is one of the key motifs here. Yelland plays the tremulous, unsatisfied housewife Laura, whose banal meeting of a doctor named Alec (Sturrock) at a railroad caf becomes an ecstatic yet anguished pas de deux toward infidelity. Yelland is wonderfully magnetic and sympathetic; her fresh, lovely features work great on the big screen, yet she has the physical prowess to hold her own amongst athletic fellow actors.

Although Brief Encounter offers plenty of comic embellishments and artful stage business, it is most powerful when it quiets down to give the material's sorrow full scope. Adapter and director Emma Rice's use of Coward's songs—"A Room with a View" and "Mad About the Boy," to name two—makes structural (if not always tonal) sense, even if you wish the cast included stronger singers. But then again, it's the whole artful package, not its individual parts, that seems to sweep some people off their feet.

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Studio 54. Based on Nol Coward's Still Life and Brief Encounter. Adapted by Emma Rice. Dir. Rice. With ensemble cast. 1hr 30mins. No intermission.