At the core of the most engaging and unconventional staging of Noel Coward’s “Brief Encounter” by the inventive and romantic director Emma Rice at Studio 54, which is based on the 1945 David Lean film and the original play “Still Life” by Mr. Coward, is the thwarted, painful and unacceptable love affair between Laura (Hannah Yelland) and Alec (Tristan Sturrock) – both married to others, both with children and both tragically thrown together at a railroad station one day, circa 1938, when Laura gets a cinder in her eye that Alec, a doctor removes.
And thus begins their journey of meeting once a week on a Thursday to have tea and take in the pictures at a matinee. All is innocent at first but it fast becomes apparent that they are falling madly, helplessly in love with one another. But because of the mores of the times Laura feels guilty, indecent and degraded. As one character says, “It’ll end in tears.”
If this relationship is not heartfelt and honest all will fall apart. Thankfully both Hannah Yelland and Tristan Sturrock are two of the most in love people on Broadway you’ll ever see. Their intimate scenes are fraught with pent up frustration and the excitement of new love. And then there is the sweeping, romantic Piano Concerto #2 By Rachmaninoff to help any of those who resist the temptation to be enticed.
Surrounding them are the most wonderful supporting players, character actors all, that are amusing and entertain us with some of Noel Coward’s songs with on stage combo that is just right. The titles alone clue us in as to what Laura and Alec are experiencing: “No Good at Love”, “Mad About the Boy”, “Go Slow Johnny” (one of the best love scenes ever staged) “Romantic Fool” and “A Room With a View” sung wistfully by Alec with a ukulele.
These two couples Beryl and Stanley (Dorothy Atkinson and Gabriel Ebert) and Myrtle and Albert (Annette Mc Laughlin and Joseph Alessi) both of a lower class have not the same mind set and freely cavort and flirt and carry on with one another.
Mr. Alessi amazingly doubles as the uncaring, pipe smoking husband of Laura. We never see the wife of Alec. Where Laura has doubts about continuing on, nevertheless she finds herself doing just that frustrating Alec even more who is more than ready.
The production itself is a scenic wonder, combining film footage with a screen that allows the actors to step into the movie, chandeliers that allow the lovers to take flight and trains whizzing by either in miniature or on an instant screen that is pulled across the stage.
This Kneehigh Theatre production of “Brief Encounter” had an all too brief run last December at St. Ann’s Warehouse . Now’s your time to be enthralled by it at Studio 54. www.roundabouttheatre.org
Photo: Joan Marcus