The Watermill Theatre
Reviewed – 18th October 2021
“The music and Anjali Mehra’s choreography are indeed highlights”
“That’s how it all began. Just by me getting a little piece of grit in me eye”. So often in life it is one of these small, simple twists of fate that change the course of a life. Laura, a respectable middle-class woman in an affectionate but rather dull marriage takes a shopping trip to a nearby town by train every Thursday. On the same day, Alec Harvey, a general practitioner works at the local hospital. They become acquainted in the refreshment room of the railway station after Alec removes a piece of dust that Laura has in her eye. Although both are quite content in their marriages, they fall in love and embark on a ‘brief’, passionate affair. They also embark on the rocky road of love, guilt, and self-examination.
Officially titled ‘Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter’, Emma Rice’s name is featured in as large a font as Coward’s on the programme. It is perfectly justified as her stage adaptation is now almost as recognisable as Coward’s film adaptation in 1945 (based on his original one act play “Still Life”). Here, Robert Kirby’s quirky and intimate production has all the Riceisms dutifully bouncing around the stage, showering magic onto a fairly dated love story. All competent musicians and singers, the cast almost give the impression that they have wandered in from the wild shores of Cornwall and an early ‘Kneehigh’ combo. I say ‘almost’. With a couple of exceptions, this troupe sometimes appear to be a bit out of their depth with the demands of the material and they need a couple more weeks to grow into the roles. For now, though, we are too aware of their concentration on getting the words, actions, and the stylistic staging right. Once they relax into the skins of the characters, the emotional impact will have the space to break through.
Laura Lake Adebisi, as Laura, is probably the guiltiest of this and therefore doesn’t quite grab the sympathy of the audience. Callum McIntyre’s more layered Alec gives her plenty to play with, but we don’t really witness the chemistry needed that would make these seemingly above-board characters decide to delve into the depths of deception. It is the peripheral characters that come across more fully formed. They burst with energy, circling the central pair, and filling the tea bar with colour. Kate Milner-Evans as Myrtle, holds forth with a commanding performance, occasionally breaking into song with a quite outstanding voice. Hanna Khogali is a bubble of quirky energy juggling her multiple roles while deftly handling her violin and guitar. Max Gallagher gives a standout performance, again switching between roles and providing the most real and memorable moments of the show; particularly as the camp Stephen, whose flat the lovers borrow one afternoon. Gallagher captures some of the hidden tones of Coward’s original text in just a few short moments of nuanced delivery.
The music and Anjali Mehra’s choreography are indeed highlights. The two are intertwined as the actor musicians dance to the tunes, relaying their instruments back and forth. We bask in a gorgeous mix of Rachmaninoff, Noël Coward and original music from composer and Musical Director, Eamonn O’Dwyer. O’Dwyer’s closing number ‘Always’ is a haunting moment. These are the moments that linger after we leave the auditorium. This staging of ‘Brief Encounter’ is stylistic, atmospheric and a feast for the senses, but there is a detachment, and the emotional encounters are all too brief.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Pamela Raith
The Watermill Theatre until 13th November
Other shows reviewed this month:
Final casting is today announced for the world première of a major new musical, “The Braille Legacy”, the thrilling, true, inspirational and epic story of Louis Braille, a young blind boy who wanted the same chance in life as those who see and ended up improving the lives of millions of blind people around the world.
It is being directed by acclaimed director Thom Southerland (”Ragtime”, “Titanic”, “Grey Gardens”, “Death Takes A Holiday”) and will première at Charing Cross Theatre (Artistic Director Thom Southerland, Managing Director Steven M. Levy) from Monday 10 April to Saturday 24 June.
Joining previously announced Olivier Award nominated Jérôme Pradon (West End credits include the UK premiere of the musical “Women On The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”, Guillaume in “Martin Guerre”, Chris in “Miss Saigon”, Javert in “Les Miserables”, and Judas in the Emmy-winning video of “Jesus Christ Superstar”) are:
Jason Broderick (“Godspell” UK tour, “Anna Nicole – The Opera” Royal Opera House); Tate-Eliot Drew (“My Lands Shore” Ye Olde Rose N Crown Theatre); Will Haswell (“Jersey Boys” West End, Pinocchio in ‘Shrek the Musical” UK tour); Lottie Henshall (“Doctors” BBC1); Sarah-Marie Maxwell (“She Loves Me” Menier Chocolate Factory, “Top Hat” UK tour); Matthew McDonald (“Death Takes a Holiday” Charing Cross Theatre, “Allegro” Southwark Playhouse); Kate Milner-Evans (“Showboat” West End, Carlotta in “The Phantom of the Opera”); Janet Mooney (West End includes “Les Miserables” and “Love Never Dies”); Ceili O’Connor (“Grand Hotel” Southwark Playhouse, “Evita” UK tour); Michael Remick (West End includes “Dirty Dancing” and “The Sound of Music”); Ashley Stillburn (Corrado in “Death Takes A Holiday” Charing Cross Theatre, “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Miserables” West End); Jack Wolfe (is making his professional stage debut as Louis Braille); and a child cast featuring Guillermo Bedward, Thomas Brown, Tallulah Byrne, Beau Cripps, Ilan Galkoff, Honey Harrison-Maw, Eliz Hassan, Megan Haynes, Zachary Loonie, Mimi Slinger, Ophir Fifi Tal, William Thompson.
“The Braille Legacy” is the story of a revolution and an heroic fight for independence, with the themes of difference, freedom, hope and love and the triumph of human values over adversity.
In Paris in the 19th century, blind people were victims of profound discrimination. Louis Braille, a bright young mind with a mad dream, arrives at the Royal Institute of Blind Youth, searching for the same chance as everyone else: to be free and independent. But he soon discovers that people and things aren’t always what they first seem. By sheer determination and courage he stumbles upon something revolutionary: a simple idea, a genius invention, a legacy. Two hundred years ago, Louis Braille changed the world by inventing the tactile system of communication, the Braille alphabet, liberating the “People of the Night” and introducing literacy, knowledge and culture to a people who were otherwise trapped. It was their journey into the light.
“The Braille Legacy” has an original French Book and Lyrics by Sébastien Lancrenon, Music by Jean-Baptiste Saudray, with an English translation by Ranjit Bolt. Music Supervision and Orchestrations are by Simon Lee.
The full creative team is: Director: Thom Southerland, Music Supervision and Orchestrations: Simon Lee, Musical Director Toby Higgins, Choreographer Lee Proud, Set Designer: Tim Shortall, Lighting Designer Tim Lutkin, Costume Designer: Jonathan Lipman, Sound Designer: Andrew Johnson, Casting: Stephen Crockett at Grindrod Casting, Children’s Casting: Jo Hawes, Music Preparation: Simone Manfredini, Associate Director Rupert Hands.
The Braille Legacy Ltd by arrangement with
Colbert Entertainment Ltd present
The Braille Legacy
Monday 10 April to Saturday 24 June
Monday – Saturday at 7.30pm
Matinees Wednesday at 2.30pm
and Saturday at 3.00pm
Saturday 27 May at 3.00pm
Monday 29 May at 7.30pm
Premium seats £39.50
Premium seats are best stalls locations,
and include a programme and a glass of
London WC2N 6NL