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Brief Encounter - Lyric Theatre 2000

This Noel Coward script, originally written in 1935 and called "Still Life", has been adapted for the stage by Andrew Taylor. The story is set in 1938 and concerns a lonely housewife, Laura, who meets a happily married doctor, Alec, in a station buffet. They fall in love and start an illicit affair that is doomed before it begins. Both fight with their conscience, particularly Laura who suffers great torment between passion for her lover and guilt for betraying her dependable husband.

The play is a moderate melodrama, but cannot be described as a classic love story. However, although the play was written in 1938, it has not dated when it comes to the destructive nature of affairs and how easy it is to become involved in one.

The set design by Martyn Bainbridge certainly captures the time and mood of 1938 with a station buffet and one of those old railway clocks. The scene changes are very effective with the stage revolving from a station buffet to a living room, to a restaurant etc.

Jenny Seagrove, as 'Laura', captures the agony of an 'innocent' woman torn between love, duty and honour. You feel her pain and hopelessness as you know her affair is fated to end in pain. Christopher Cazenove, as 'Alec', looks the part and comes across as a typical English gentleman. However, I was a little disappointed that his character was not explored more. I certainly remember in the film feeling sad for both characters, but in this stage version I felt only for Laura.

The notices from the popular press have been mixed......PATRICK MARMION for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "No passion here, just good old British drizzle." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Seagrove is ridiculously gruff and jolly-hockeysticks when she isn't coming over all faint or bursting into tears, while the spookily bland Cazenove has all the sexual ardour of a bowl of tepid porridge. His upper lip may be stiff, but it's obvious that nothing else is." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Brief Encounter on stage is full of period charm but short on emotion." He goes on to say, "Cazenove plays boyish eagerness well and Seagrove sweetness, decency and grief equally effectively, but there's no great passion, desperation or even need in their encounters. " PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDFEPENDENT says, "Taylor's adaptation is a pathetic pick'n'mix of the bits of the film and play, and expertly manages to get the worst of both worlds." SHERIDAN MORLEY for TELETEXT, liked the production saying, "...what we have now is the play of the film of the play... and it works just wonderfully." PETER HEPPLE for THE STAGE also liked it saying, "Dignified drama is first class" THE SUNDAY TIMES is also impressed by the play and the actors saying, "Cazenove's playing beautifully balances urgency and good breeding, and Seagrove gives her finest performance ever.."

"Brief Encounter" is a nostalgic trip for many older patrons. It is a very British and old-fashioned love story, but unfortunately, it fails to emotionally grip. Nevertheless, it is still worth seeing, particularly if you have not seen the film!

(Darren Dalglish)

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