Perfect for the ‘incurably romantic’, Emma Rice’s Brief Encounter is a glorious piece of theatre at the Empire Cinema Haymarket
“This is my whole world and it’s enough, or rather it was until a few weeks ago”
How we change over a decade. When Kneehigh’s Brief Encounter was first announced to take over the cinema on Haymarket, I went to maybe one play a month and was the proud owner of a Cineworld card, so was disgruntled that my West End film options were being curtailed. I did not see the show.
Fast forward 10 years, I can’t remember the last film I saw in a picturehouse, the cinema has been taken over by Empire, and director/adaptor Emma Rice has had quite the ride herself over the last few years. So who can blame her for returning to happier times, happier memories, in reviving this much-loved production.
A love letter to both film and theatre, Rice combines elements of David Lean’s 1946 film with the 1936 Noël Coward play Still Life that it was based on, and then sprinkles in her own brand of magic. Projections, puppets, poetry and pulleys are all employed to transport and transform, crystallising a pure form of emotion that strangely never seemed to quite materialise at the Globe.
She expands the storytelling beyond the central romance of Laura (Isabel Pollen) and Alec (Jim Sturgeon) and all their buttoned-up illicit passion, to include the working class people incidental to their lives. So the waitress and manager of the train station tearoom where Laura and Alec meet-cute are given their own rich, romantic lives full of sex and music, in direct contrast.
It makes for a compelling watch, the production lubricated by the joyous inclusion of song throughout. The cast play singing ushers as we walk into the building, and music is threaded into pretty much every scene with Jos Slovick shining as a multi-instrumentalist, singer and all-round top bloke. I’d recommend not waiting another ten years in case it may come around again and get booking now.