Acclaimed U.K. Production of Coward's Brief Encounter Will Play Broadway

By Kenneth Jones
and Adam Hetrick
04 Jun 2010

Director-adaptor Emma Rice
Director-adaptor Emma Rice
Photo by Kneehigh Theatre

Roundabout Theatre Company will present Kneehigh Theatre Company's acclaimed production of Nol Coward's Brief Encounter adapted and directed by Emma Rice, who infused the staging with music, dance and film projections on Broadway. A casting notice revealed the plan.

A mix of romance, musical comedy, meta-theatricality and melodrama, the production was popular in the U.K. and was embraced in engagements around the U.S. in 2009-10, including an extended run at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn. There have been rumblings about a Broadway transfer of the project since 2009.

An existing British ensemble is expected to launch the production at a Roundabout venue to be announced. Previews are expected to start in early September. Roundabout has not officially announced the production.

After an acclaimed London run, Brief Encounter made its U.S. debut in an extended engagement at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre in fall 2009. The St. Ann's engagement in Brooklyn opened Dec. 6 and was extended through Jan. 17, 2010. Its American tour ended at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in April 2010.



Adapted and directed by Kneehigh artistic director Rice, Brief Encounter draws from Coward's original one-act Still Life and David Lean's 1945 black-and-white screen adaptation, which was called "Brief Encounter." Rice has also sprinkled the affair, which she calls "a grownup fairy tale," with songs by Coward and new melodies by Stu Walker, which utilize Coward's poems and other writings.

The show was a kind of old-fashioned "happening" that felt experimental and traditional at once: Cast members wander the house, greeting theatregoers and performing songs before the action begins; the fourth wall is often broken; characters walk in and out of projected film sequences; the main lovers of the tale begin the evening by sitting in the front row of theatre, watching a movie.

According to earlier production notes: "Switching seamlessly between live theatre and remade film footage, Brief Encounter takes audiences back to a bygone age of romance and the silver screen. The story follows the brief affair between Laura (a housewife and mother) and Alec (a married doctor), who meet at a railway station café when Alec removes a piece of grit from Laura's eye… The lives and loves of the three couples are played out in the train station tearoom as a grand entertainment, using the words (some newly set to original music) and familiar songs of Noël Coward to create a breathtaking, funny and tear-inducing show with live musicians on stage, characters jumping in and out of film screens, and a couple in love floating in mid-air."

The production that played the U.S. in 2009-10 featured Joseph Alessi (Albert/Fred), Hannah Yelland (Laura), Eddie Jay (Ensemble), Annette McLaughlin (Myrtle), Stu McLoughlin (Stanley), Adam Pleeth (Ensemble), Dorothy Atkinson (Beryl), Tristan Sturrock (Alec), Daniel Canham (Bill/Ensemble). Jay and Pleeth also served as musicians for the production, playing songs by Coward and 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 and sound designer Simon Baker.

Brief Encounter was originally produced by David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and Cineworld. The production was nominated for four Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best Entertainment and Best Director.