Review: Brief Encounter at Northern Stage
Brief Encounter – Northern Stage
3rd July 2023
Call me a theatre luvvie – which of course I am – I do love a good pre-show and this production gave a very good pre-show with four of the cast entertaining the waiting crowd with several numbers in the style of a barbershop quartet but with instruments too. It reminded me of my time earlier in the year in Disney World waiting to go on a particularly popular ride and I can give them no greater compliment than that.
This was the precursor to heading into the auditorium and taking our seats to be greeted with what can only be described as a giant shower curtain. The stage was also adorned with Victorian style foot-lighting which always makes this fanboy smile. The foursome from the preshow were also there guiding people to their seats and generally making an entertaining nuisance of themselves. This is all before the action starts and was warmly received by the audience.
The story of Brief Encounter revolves around a chance meeting between married mother of two Laura Jesson and GP Dr Alec Harvey in a refreshment room in a railway station and the fallout from their implied affair. This version is adapted wonderfully by Emma Rice from the play and 1945 film written by the eloquent wordsmith Noel Coward and remains largely faithful to the latter’s elegant prose.
The audience is introduced to the main protagonists straight away, as we hear some of the final words of the play before time is taken back so we may understand what has led to the opening. Jammy Kasongo takes on the main role and is elegant, suave, and terribly British as the good doctor, and Hanora Kamen is every bit the English lady as Laura Jesson struggling with her feelings and duties to her husband Fred (Tom Self) and their two young children.
Noel Coward, I am sure would have no issues with some of the minor characters of the film being given a more central role in this production because they all add to the story and offer a warming normality to the ever-growing passion between our ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and brings a reality to the narrative which was perhaps not as prominent in the David Lean directed film.
Apart from the two main characters, all the other actors play several roles and in some cases several instruments as the story unfolds. We have three blossoming love affairs including the multi-talented Nicola Bryan as Mrs Myrtle Bagot – the stern manageress of the refreshment room and Samuel Morgan-Grahame as conductor Albert Godby. Luke Thornton is adorable as porter Stanley who has a twinkle in his eye as he sets his sights on waitress Beryl played by Lucy Elizabeth Thornburn. The cast is completed by Chioma Uma who plays Dolly Messiter along with numerous other characters and is as adept on the violin as she is the piano at various points throughout the show.
I was mistaken to think that the songs in this production were merely there to cover scene changes because as the play develops there are some very carefully considered musical interludes that carry the story along and beautifully enhance the whole show.
This is an extremely slick production and the lighting (Jessie Addinall), the sound (James Cook), the set design and costumes (Jess Curtis) team has worked wonders to bring this excellent production to the stage. Director, Douglas Rintoul, employs some deft theatrical tricks and slick choreography from Alexzandra Sarmiento took my breath away at times. My highest praise, however, goes to Tom Self who as well as being musical director and orchestrator takes on several roles including Fred, the husband of Laura.
This production is probably one of the best I have reviewed at any theatre in the North East and I would quite happily go back to see it again but alas, tonight was the final performance at Northern Stage and, indeed, the current tour but I do hope that Mrs Bagot and her freshly baked buns and brewed tea make a welcome reappearance so that Laura and Dr Alec, Stanley and Beryl may once again have a brief encounter very soon indeed.
Superb theatre; beautifully imagined and performed. Bravo!
- Stephen Stokoe
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