Brief Encounter, Giving Coward a Fresh Coat of Magic, Opens on Broadway
By Kenneth Jones
The Broadway premiere of Brief Encounter, the Kneehigh Theatre's highly theatrical and widely acclaimed adaptation of Noël Coward's stage and film romance, opens Sept. 28 following previews from Sept. 10 at Studio 54. The U.K.-originated staging, adapted and directed by Emma Rice, includes puppets, songs, incidental music, dance, melodrama, film projections and comedy to create a unique hybrid.
The Roundabout Theatre Company presentation, in association with David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and Cineworld, is a limited engagement to Dec. 5.
The cast of Kneehigh vets (and two Americans) includes U.K. performers Joseph Alessi (Albert/Fred), Dorothy Atkinson (Beryl), American Damon Daunno (Bill/Bobbie), American Gabriel Ebert (Stanley), Edward Jay (Musician), Annette McLaughlin (Myrtle), Adam Pleeth (Musician), Tristan Sturrock (Alec) and Hannah Yelland (Laura). Sturrock and Yelland played the romantic leads in the previous New York City run of the production at St. Ann's Warehouse in 2009-10. It also toured the U.S.; Brief Encounter launched in the U.K.
According to Roundabout, Brief Encounter "is an imaginative new work that combines elements of Noël Coward's beloved screenplay, and the one-act play [Still Life] on which it was based, with song, dance and Technicolor displays of emotion."
The production, almost expressionistic in quality, breaks the fourth wall from the beginning of the experience, when cast members perform Coward songs in the aisle. Songs in the production have music and lyrics by Coward, or text by Coward with new music.
The atmosphere conjured suggests a post-war British cinema. The leading man and lady leap from the front row and onto the stage to tell the tale of housewife Laura and doctor Alec — good British people, with spouses of their own — who meet in the tearoom of a railway station and lurch toward an affair. Supporting players perform songs and flesh out the tearoom/train station community. Characters also blend into film projections, making the work unlike anything Coward could have imagined.
Inspired by a Coward one-act called Still Life, the tale is better known as the 1945 David Lean movie, "Brief Encounter," which had a screenplay by Coward.
The songs in the production have music and lyrics by Coward ("Mad About the Boy," "A Room With a View," "Go Slow, Johnny," "Any Little Fish") or lyrics/verse by Coward and new music by Stu Barker ("No Good at Love," "Always," "Wide Lagoon," "Romantic Fool").
When asked by Playbill.com if she uses multimedia in all of her work, director Rice replied, "There's no formula to the way I work. I think I come from a simple, Poor Theatre background. I do a lot of storytelling. I use film in the same way that I use other sorts of Poor Theatre techniques, puppetry or other techniques. Each project defines how you tell that story. I've never used film in the way I have in Brief Encounter. And I won't again. But I've always used everything. I believe myself to be a storyteller above all. And I don't care what tells a story, whether it's design or music or words or film. I see the story as the thing, not the written word."
Here is a look at the show:
Read the new Playbill magazine feature about the production. The Brief Encounter design team includes Neil Murray (sets and costumes), Malcolm Rippeth (lights), Simon Baker (sound) and Gemma Carrington & Jon Driscoll (projection). Production stage manager is Peter Hanson. Stage manager is John Krause.
Ticket prices range from $37-$127. Call Roundabout Ticket Services at (212) 719-1300, online at www.roundabouttheatre.org or at the Studio 54 box office (254 W. 54th Street).
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