The Theatreguide.London Review
Lyric Theatre Autumn 2000
Oh no, I hear you cry, not another stage show of the movie of the stage show! Oh yes, hot footing it to the same row of theatres playing The Graduate and They Shoot Horses Don't They? is this adaptation of David Lean's classic screen love story Brief Encounter.
Strictly entitled 'Noel Coward's Brief Encounter', it is not as much a novelty as one would think. Originally a one-act play written by Coward in 1936, the Master worked with Lean on the expanded 1945 film starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard.
This version saw a string of further adaptations over the following decades, including radio and an instantly forgettable seventies remake with Sophia Loren and Richard Burton. And it may come as no surprise to learn that Leonard Bernstein was considering turning it into a musical.
My point in rambling about this sparky production's progenitors is that while unashamedly based firmly on the Lean movie, one should not hold that up as the sole benchmark for comparison. I went in to the Lyric with as few preconceptions as I could muster, and was pleasantly surprised.
As bored housewife Laura, Jenny Seagrove has great presence but is oddly one-dimensional until she bumps into Christopher Cazenove - the well-to-do doctor Alec - when their commuting paths cross at a provincial railway station.
As the couple's passion grows then abruptly fades, the performances gather steam and they play well off each other.
Their frustrated love reflects the society's of forties Britain, but this still touches a major chord for the audiences of today - and that's to the show's credit.
Less successful is the actors' baffling inability to convince that they are people with spouses and children. As a result, a valuable flavour of guilt to the adulterous liaison is lost.
Comic relief comes in classic style from the 'jolly lower classes'. The flirting of the Buffet Manageress (an engaging Elizabeth Power) and her beau the Station Master (a buoyant Christopher Beeny) neatly parallels the highbrow agonising of their posher customers.
Technically it's very slick indeed. The pacing - in what is necessarily a static play - is exceptionally smooth, aided by a perfect period set that revolves from station bar to Home Counties sitting room and so on.
Continuity between the scenes is supplied by taped voiceovers reflecting Laura's thoughts as the scenes change behind her.
Potentially awkward, it manages to be an effective ploy here although the strains of the lush backing music makes you half expect someone to burst into song each time the speaking stops.
Adaptor Andrew Taylor and director Roger Redfarn are playing directly to the Ayckbourn crowd and as such will pack out any hall or venue the length and breadth of Middle England, particularly when fronted by the excellent pairing of Seagrove and Cazenove.
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