‘THE MASTER’ as Noel Coward was nicknamed, famously once said: “Writing is more important than acting, for one good reason; it lasts.”
In director Emma Rice’s spectacular Knee High/REP co-production of Brief Encounter where there is much to marvel at, she also celebrates Coward’s beautiful text and pays homage to what is perhaps one of the greatest love stories ever old.
It’s also the tenth anniversary of the birth of this production based on the 1943 film, where it premiered at the Birmingham REP before travelling the world. Technology has moved on, so director and players have many more brushes with which to paint their canvas today.
From the get-go it’s apparent we are in for a treat. No – actually before the get-go when a band dressed in 1940s railway uniforms tour the theatre pre-show capturing the period and transporting us back to the Gaumont and Odeon cinemas of yore. It is no surprise that on entering the auditorium, we are greeted by old school usherettes and a giant garish festoon blind adorning the proscenium.
As the music ends the curtain goes up to reveal a silver screen with the film classification certificate stating that it had been passed as ‘Fit for Entertainment’. We first hear and then spot, Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson on a settee in the orchestra pit.
On the giant screen in gloriously scratchy monochrome a man looks anxiously out at us from his 1940s middle class lounge complete with deep armchairs and obligatory standard lamp.
Celia Johnson aka Laura aka Isabel Pollen runs onto the stage and literally walks into the screen – where a giant version of herself joins what we soon realise is her husband – and the play commences.
Meanwhile Trevor Howard aka Alec aka Jim Sturgeon watches the movie briefly then exits stage right.
The screen goes and we are now in the railway station canteen that we know from the film.
Enter Laura in distress with a piece of coal dust in her eye, cue Dr Alec to enter and rescue her and we are off – wonderful steam trains come and go – a myriad of characters play out their back stories enhancing the illicit but beautifully and quaintly seedy main affair.
So clever is this production that Neil Murray’s constantly changing set with flying platforms and chandeliers strong enough to swing from merge seamlessly with Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington’s projections of crashing waves and a veritable kaleidoscope of effects set to Stu Bakers soundtrack. It takes us on a journey like no other we have ever been on.
This is quite simply a masterpiece of creativity – it has a wow factor beyond wowing.
Truro’s Knee High Theatre Company and the Birmingham REP have combined to create magic.
Undoubtedly ‘The Master’ would approve were he alive today.
My top theatre going experience so far in 2018 goes to this all too brief ‘Brief Encounter’.
Yes it’s only February but this is going to take some beating.
Grab a ticket whilst you can.