When Noel Coward turned his one-act Still Life into the film Brief Encounter in 1945, he surely would never have imagined it becoming the oddball musical comedy that it is today at Studio 54.
The song and dance sequences in this adaptation channel equal parts puppy love and passion while Technicolor displays and mixed media make for an interesting, yet ultimately forgettable theatrical experience.
Director and adaptor Emma Rice’s Brief Encounter is an unpretentious love story told with big effects– some more affecting than others.
Alec (Tristan Sturrock) meets Laura (Hannah Yelland), as he aids her in removing a fleck of cinder from her eye.
They continue to develop a relationship with one another while their respective spouses remain in the dark. As in the film, their connection is never consummated (though it is lustful with emotion all the same).
Alec and Laura are somewhat dry when compared to their more fun counterparts.
The jaunty stage presence of musicians playing the accordion, banjo and trumpet among other period instruments makes for a delightful experience.
Dorothy Atkinson’s Beryl is smart and perfectly matched with Gabriel Ebert’s Stanley, a foil of small sorts for Alec and Laura. Watch for the song “Mad About the Boy”, Beryl and Stanley’s profession of love for one another as they caress a bass to the tune of their joy.
The true stars of this show are not the actors, but the special effects.
The production makes brilliant use of a large movie screen in front of which the actors perform, only to jump through its curtain and reappear as part of the film.
Less interesting and understandable is the use of puppets to act as Laura’s children, or stuffed dogs attached to broom handles used for moments of humor. Laughs ensue, but they’re forced in a piece that didn’t need gags for pleasure.
Neil Murray’s set design is unique and flattering.
One space is transformed from railroad station diner to living room with minimal set changes, always allowing audiences a grip on the period mood of the play.
The actors never go backstage, instead sitting at tables situated in front of the orchestra.
They are one with the audience from start to finish, and even beyond the close of the show.
For once, it is no insult that the best part of the show comes after its finale, as the actors stay in character and head to the back of orchestra seating to perform pop songs such as “Time After Time”, “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Survivor” in the mode of forties jazz diddies.
To learn more about Brief Encounter visit Roundabout Theater.