Kneehigh Theatre’s reimagining of Brief Encounter is a touching and refreshing look at a classic tale of love. It is the story of an impossible dilemma; the passionate love affair of Laura and Alec, played wonderfully by Isabel Pollen and Jim Sturgeon respectively, make it impossible to return to their previous reality.
What stole the show was the set, which is breath-taking work from designer Neil Murray. The production’s cinematic roots were woven seamlessly throughout the duration of the story. This was seen with the involvement of ‘ushers’ as a preshow component, as well as the use of a cinema screen projecting graphics that emulated 1940s design.
The portrayal of her children through life-size puppets was a particularly unnerving moment that expressed her isolation.
The way in which the actors slipped between this screen and the stage elicited murmurs of wonderment from the audience, and rightly so – it was a particularly mesmerising choice from director Emma Rice. The deliberate theatricality of this was simultaneously alienating and encapsulating.
In fact, the set often drove the narrative. Laura’s sense of detachment from her own life was powerfully conveyed by Isabel Pollen, yet it was the stylised elements of the set which conveyed this to a higher degree. The portrayal of her children through life-size puppets was a particularly unnerving moment that expressed her isolation. Moments such as this aided in further highlighting the serious undertones of the story.
As a Kneehigh piece, music and movement was fundamental to the production. Although inventive, the movement sections often fell a little short of impressive. It is hard not to expect something a little more daring from this company, particularly in face of their otherwise enchanting work throughout. Yet it was the unbounding energy of all cast members that created what was ultimately a brilliantly dynamic piece.
A standout performance from this was Jos Slovick. His musical renditions were heart-warming and tied the story together beautifully.
Actress Beverley Rudd was a significant contributor to this, as well as a humorous break from the intensity of the main plot. The use of the band on stage throughout was a wonderful addition, reminding the audience once again of the theatricality of the story and of the production itself.
A standout performance from this was Jos Slovick. His musical renditions were heart-warming and tied the story together beautifully. His voice soared above the action and created the perfect atmosphere, whether it was a moment of hopelessness or passion.
This production is fascinatingly theatrical; an aesthetically beautiful and poignant look at the consequences of forbidden love.
See it at the Rep until 17th February.
Review by Charlotte Burholt for Grapevine Birmingham @charburholt