It was directed by David Lean, starred Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard as illicit lovers, written by Noel Coward based on his short play Still Life, has a searing score, was nominated for three Oscars and won the Palme d’Or.
It is revered by critics and adored by millions. In short, it is perfect. You mess with it at your peril.
The team at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, however, is fearless. Brief Encounter, adapted for the stage by Emma Rice and directed by the theatre’s artistic director Paul Robinson, is the opening play of its summer repertory.It is wonderful, brilliant, tender, heartbreaking and never misses a beat of what the film’s fans remember.
Housewife and mum Laura, stuck in a rut, meets married doctor and father Alec in a railway buffet room. He removes a piece of grit from her eye – an intense, short affair follows. Like the film, the play starts at the end of the affair – there is no doubt we are going to need tissues by the end – and then recounts the love story.
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It is Laura’s story – it is her family the audience also meets and gets to know, her journey we follow and her jeopardy we feel – though there is no escaping Alec’s heartache either.Anne-Marie Piazza plays Laura – who goes from repressed and frustrated to euphoric and hopeful and finally to anger and then hope.
Pete Ashmore is the perfect partner – quiet, still, steady, sensible and emotionally empty until he meets Laura.
The tragedy is he has to pack up his love and return to his “delicate wife” and duty just as Laura is again enveloped in the bosom of her suburban family.
The difference is Laura’s husband Fred appreciates and treasures what he temporarily loses.
“Thank you for coming back to me,” is Fred’s understated and yet devastating way of saying he knows what has been going on, forgives and understands.
The familiar characters of Myrtle – the cafe owner – and station master Albert – are included. Their love affair and that of Beryl and Stanley are carefree, guilt-free, passionate and contrast to the love of Alec and Laura – illicit, intense and shrouded in shame and guilt.
Robert Jackson, Natasha Lewis, Lara Lewis, Joey Hickman and Rishi Manuel play all the other roles – from busybody acquaintances of Laura to Alec’s best friend and cheeky conductors.
The musical numbers were perfect. Simon Slater provided the music to Noel Coward’s songs including Any Little Fish, No Good at Love, Mad About the Boy, A Room with A View and Always. There is, of course, Rachmaninoff – a nod to the film’s score and Laura’s concert pianist ambitions.
The staging is wonderful – ranging from the steam, smoke, tea and scones of the station and its buffet to a row boat escapade in the park to a snatched sordid afternoon in an over-the-shop flat.
Brief Encounter is an analysis of the initial joy and ultimate pain of illicit love, the power of love, the heartbreak of its loss and the healing power of its presence – easily forgotten in a time when relationships are measured by Love Island and Married at First Sight.
It is a joyful, intense and heartbreaking production that does justice to, respects and enhances Noel Coward’s original play and the film.
Brief Encounter runs at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from now until Saturday August 27.
Tickets: 01723 370541 or www.sjt.uk.com