Review: Brief Encounter at The Lowry

BRIEF ENCOUNTER/The Lowry, Salford Quays

REVIEW/by Peggy Woodcock

LIKE most women I love Brief Encounter, Noel Coward’s sad story of forbidden love in the 1940’s, memorably put on the big screen wreathed in nostalgic train smoke.

As a theatre fan, I love seeing the adventurous, the experimental, on stage. So, I should have been bowled over by Kneehigh’s innovative treatment of Brief Encounter at the Lowry on Tuesday.

An oddball mix of video screening, stage play, music and movement, it was a surprise hit in the West End last year and I was keen to see why. I don’t have the answer. For, while there were some excellent elements in this show, as a whole, for me, it just didn’t work.

It didn’t know what it was, what it was doing or where it was going. It began at the end - well, we all know the ending so maybe that doesn’t matter - and moved awkwardly along in episodic manner, broken by sudden song and dance turns and forays into the audience.

There was some live and lively music on-stage - and in the audience - featuring banjo and trombone but the songs were unmemorable, except for A Room With A View, and the singing, not good.

On a huge back video screen waves flowed and pounded the shore. As the love affair ebbed and flowed. Not very subtle. The characters were given to sudden sways of movement to match the waves, or the express steaming through, or whatever.

Innovation is a great idea, and full marks for effort, but this was over-egging the pudding and then some. That said, certain of the stage effects deserve mention, in particular the creative use of video screening to allow the characters to move between screen and stage - and steamed the occasional train through.

Occasionally we got back to the Brief Encounter story about the respectable housewife and mum and the handsome doctor meeting by accident in the railway buffet and falling into a passionate, doomed love affair.

And there was much to enjoy there, in particular, the performance of Hannah Yelland, as Laura. In her sensible tweed costume, she had the posture, manners and cut glass voice of the period to perfection.

In contrast, Beverly Rudd made the most of her role as Beryl, overweight and bossed about buffet bar assistant, light on her dance feet and with a good comic touch. Why she moved around the stage on a mini scooter was just one of the many oddities of this, well, odd show.