Saturday, 27 October 2007

Brief Encounter - WYP

Brief Encounter by Noel Coward
West Yorkshire Playhouse 24th October – 10th November.

Director – Emma Rice.
Reviewed by Gregory Hale and Lucy Cosens

When theatre gets it right, it gets it right! Knee High’s Artistic Director, Emma Rice, has created a show that is an absolute masterpiece, a quintessential theatrical production, combining breathtaking imagery, sharp physicality and prodigious Knee High resourcefulness.

The story follows the brief encounter between Laura (a housewife and mother) and Alec (a married GP) who meet at a railway station café when Alec removes a piece of grit from her eye. After this they arrange to meet every Thursday. The drama then unfurls as Laura deals with this passionate love and attempts to suppress her feelings and remain loyal to her husband.

Right from the start Knee High generated a rapport with the audience which lasted throughout the whole piece, from playing songs whilst the audience entered the auditorium to the constant flirtatious energy that sparkled throughout, especially through the characters Beryl and Stanley.

The stage was beautifully arranged, a resourceful plane upon which all the scenes entwined ergo the whole piece had a seamless beauty, not a staccato stop-start but a bona fide work of art. The set was filled with innovative ideas such as a giant cinema screen (where Laura is emotionally pulled back into her reality), a removable bridge that spans the width of the stage, a built in trampoline and a slag heap for the musicians, to name a few! To maintain the fluidity of the piece the characters sung some songs whilst the set was being changed. The songs were both insightful and amusing and executed by the actors with finesse (particularly Stuart Mcloughlin and Amanda Lawrence).

For all this play deals with intense emotion and pained love, it is injected throughout with light hearted humour. The comical and sexual relationship between Myrtle and Albert (the dominant woman and the cheeky chap) and the youthful light hearted relationship between Beryl and Stanley all helped highlight the intensity of Laura and Alec’s love. Humour was also provided through the quirky adverts during the intermission, the songs and the character traits (Myrtle’s emphasised swaggering bottom, Beryl’s scooter, the musicians dressed as women, flashing derrieres, ostentatious costumes etc).

In typical Knee High fashion the absurd encroaches along the outer periphery of realism. One beautiful moment occurs when Laura and Alec are out for dinner and they order a bottle a champagne, the two’s happiness is reflected through a stunning suspended dance where they float in ecstasy and twirl with jubilation. Another hilarious absurd moment is Beryl’s balloon song and dance!

Emma Rice has skilfully weaved myth into the original text, juxtaposing a Selkie myth with the character Laura. This was beautifully and poignantly portrayed when Laura rips off her jacket, as if peeling away her skin, and through the stark images and sounds of the sea as if Laura is finding a freedom within. In the end she finds true freedom and release when she plays the piano, the sounds of the waves crashing along with the emotionally infused notes tingled even the hardest of spines!

Knee High are one of the mot innovative and fresh theatre companies around, their work moves theatre to the next level. Brief Encounter is a piece of theatre that must be seen for its inspiring imagery, comedic elements, beautiful story, entertainment value, depth and intrigue, which ultimately reaffirms why we have theatre!

Breif Encounter runs at the WYP until 10th November for more information visit

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