By Kenneth Jones
30 Sep 2009
|Photo by courtesy of Kneehigh Theatre|
Before opening on Sept. 16, the engagement already had been extended by a week (to Oct. 11). Audience demand is prompting the new dates (seven additional performances — Oct. 13-17 at 8 PM with a matinee on Oct. 17 at 2 PM).
Adapted and directed by Emma Rice from the words and music of Coward, Kneehigh Theatre's production of Brief Encounter plays A.C.T. — housed in a 100-year-old former movie theatre previously known as the Geary and the Columbia. Previews began Sept. 11.
Rice describes Brief Encounter as "a very grown-up fairy tale." Her production offers "fantastical staging and the unique mixture of romance and comedy."
According to A.C.T., "In this must-see limited engagement direct from sold-out performances all over the United Kingdom, acclaimed Kneehigh Theatre transforms an iconic love story into a jaw-dropping fusion of theatre, film, and music. Forbidden passion brews in a 1938 railway station tearoom when a suburban housewife, over a series of stolen afternoons, falls madly in love with a married doctor. Featuring Coward's infectious songs and ingeniously crafted with whimsical humor, dreamy romance, and stunning multimedia effects, Brief Encounter was nominated for four Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best Entertainment and Best Director."
Rice, who is the artistic director of Kneehigh Theatre, also directs the highly theatrical work (including film and projections) inspired by the 1945 movie and the Coward play (Still Life) that came before it.
After the A.C.T. run, Brief Encounter will continue on to a full U.S. tour, which will end in New York City at St. Ann's Warehouse.
The production features celebrated British actors and Kneehigh regulars including Joseph Alessi (Albert/Fred), Eddie Jay (Ensemble), Annette McLaughlin (Myrtle), Stu McLoughlin (Stanley), Adam Pleeth (Ensemble), Beverly Rudd (Beryl), Milo Twomey (Alec) and Hannah Yelland (Laura), with Pleeth and Jay doubling as live musicians playing songs from the Noël Coward repertoire as well as original music by Stu Barker.
The creative team for the show includes scenic and costume designer Neil Murray, lighting designer Malcolm Rippeth, projection and film designers Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington, sound designer Simon Baker, musical director Pete Judge and puppetry designer Lyndie Wright.
Brief Encounter was originally produced by David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and Cineworld.
"I love romance and I love folk tales. Brief Encounter has surprisingly embraced both these passions," states adaptor and director Emma Rice, a major name in ensemble-generated theatre that challenges the boundaries of live performance. "If you boil it down to its most basic level, I think that my work is often about love, the wonder of it and the trouble it can get us into. It asks how one negotiates the emotions and what happens when you break the rules."
With Brief Encounter, Kneehigh Theatre will pay homage to the American Conservatory Theater's legacy as a movie house with actors dressed as 1930s movie ushers before the start of the show. "The transformation continues when the play starts with a large movie screen that is the most prominent element in the scenic design," according to A.C.T. "The production blurs the lines between cinema and theatre with actors going in out of projections that are a key part of Kneehigh's signature visual storytelling. The whimsical staging of the production is in service of the emotional truth of the whirlwind romance at the heart of Coward's film and play. Rice speaks to Coward's innate ability to tap into the hearts and minds of his two protagonists."
Rice states, "It is written with such empathy, such observation, and such tender agony. Noël Coward knew what he was writing about. Imagine being gay in the 1930s and you begin to understand Brief Encounter. Imagine the impossibility of expressing the most fundamental of human needs and emotions."