“Brief Encounters” is actually an adaptation of Noel Coward’s 1936 one-act play, “Still Life. ” It came out as a film in 1945. Set in the backdrop of World War II in 1945, the story tells of how Laura Jesson, a housewife and Alec Harvey, a married doctor, get to slowly build a forbidden romance. They met at a certain cafe in a railway station and set a rendezvous at the same place on several occasions. With that, a certain friendship based on companionship which eventually grew into love was formed. They arranged to meet at occasional opportune moments hence the title, Brief Encounters.
The two kept on with the relationship, stealing brief moments to see each other. Then after, when Alec needed to leave the country for a job in South Africa, they said goodbye to each other and finally put an end to their especially-colored friendship. Alec and Laura met on the same cafe at the train station. (Chadderton 1) Plot When Laura needed to go to Milford town, she usually goes for shopping and sees a film at the cinema. It was when she got a grit in her eye on the way home when she met Alec Harvey, a general practitioner who goes to the hospital as a consultant.
Both of them are married and have two children. The two arrange another set of rendezvous and suddenly found that their friendship develops into love. This somehow affected Laura’s relationship with her husband Fred. Secretly, they meet, wary of possible chance encounters with common acquaintances, probably with a certain longing to spend more time with each other in private. There was this one time, after a certain number of meetings that they went to Alec’s friend, Valentine Dyall’ apartment.
It is upon chance also that this friend of the doctor’s suddenly arrives that our heroine needed to leave the scene through the fire exit. It seemed though that all situations surrounding the lovers did not permit them to achieve the happiness that they wanted to have together. Destiny wanted to tell them that they have to face the reality that they are tied to responsibilities in their respective families that the two decided to stop seeing each other. The last meeting that they had was when Alec heads to Johannesburg, South Africa. Laura went to see him off at the same train station in Milford where they first met.
At the opportune time that they were seeing each other for the last time, a certain friend of Laura’s named Dolly Messiter appears and gets to sit with them, uninvited. Until the end, the relationship seemed to have stood among rocks and even the last meeting has been only a brief encounter. Meanwhile, in contrast to their love affair, the leads were surrounded by other younger couples who were freer to love, were victorious in their relationship and were able to have the opportunity to experience passion. Myrtle, the station manager and Albert, the guard, started an affair that was more open and passionate.
The waitress, Beryl relished the gift of young and first love with cake-seller Stanley. Beryl’s dance scenes has far dimmed out and at the same time placed a brighter spotlight to an unconsummated love affair between Laura and Alec. The story, which is all about having secret love affairs, is quite a common occurrence already during the time when the play was originally released. It might not seem to be a new concept that everyone would die to see but due to the vividness of the emotions of the characters, especially the woman, it appealed to a great number of audiences.
Its being told in the woman’s point of view really makes it much of a demonstration of repressed emotions and repressed sexuality, capturing real life human passion from every commoner’s life happenings. The original play has been adapted by various theaters in the United Kingdom such as the Oxford Stage and The Liverpool Playhouse among others. The latest and most talked about adaptation is that of the Kneehigh Theatre, a London-based international theater group, directed by their artistic director, Emma Rice, getting all praises from reviews and critics.
Kneehigh Theatre started out small with a teacher giving workshops in Cornwall in 1980, after which they started giving out shows for the common people of Cornwall and up until now, they remained in that place by choice. It is where they believe that they can produce the most possible fruits of creativity. “…we always try to start the creative process at these barns, to be inspired by our environment and where we work. ” (Sheperd 2) The theatre is 28 years old now and has gathered quite a number of patron, or more so, devotee audiences.
Their creative work usually rested upon the spirit of the eccentricity, sometimes also urbanely surreal and crazy. I’ve known of usual scenes in the city with upbeat and loud music used to be their signature style with added hoisting-in-the-air fantasies that ought to be their normal. For this recent adaptation of Noel Coward’s Brief encounters, there was quite a noted shift in this style – not actually a shift but a different attack. The characters stayed more on the ground and were more real and conventional. We saw characters full of emotions and humanity.
This then proves the Kneehigh to be much more flexible and lived up to what they have been for the past 28 years. Upon the entrance to the Haymarket Theater, a foreboding message that this is “the 1940’s” plays as the blue curtains covers the stage. There was something about the lighting and music that reflect the 1940’s and has given the audience a feel of watching and being in a real 1940’s film. More treat comes way as actors themselves in 1940s costume usher in the audience. The idea of love in a repressed society in that specific time finds a good haven in this setting. The use of this technique has established the setting very well.
It did not just show, but it would transport any onlooker to the time when the play was set. It was like watching the original film, although with more visual treats, and more elaborateness. It’s surprising though that the play has incorporated cinema in it. Some scenes were live on stage, some were onscreen and at most, they were a combination of both. This combination of theater and cinema provided an aura of a film that is coming to life. The black and white cinematic scenes makes the conveyance of the setting and dramatic situation more effective and made the adaptation of the play more accurate.
In the cinema scene, the film used was the original Brief Encounters film with Laura and Alec sitting among the audience. An enigmatic and slightly comical effect was elicited from this manipulation. In the scene where Alec was trying to ask Laura if she feels the same for him, the sudden appearance of Fred (Laura’s husband) on the screen has given this dreamy effect to the play and comes to intensify the much repressed emotions of Laura. The scene communicates much the idea of the characters waking up from a dream and having to face their responsibilities again.
The incorporation of cinema in the show also solved what previous adaptations lacked in: sincerity and real emotions. In the cinema, character’s faces are focused and that would make the audience share the feelings of the characters. In this play, the use of proper stage acting caught what was there in the cinema. The acting of the characters was really effective and the cinematic effects helped a lot. Tristan Sturrock and Naomi Frederick shared a compatibility which made them seem inseparable as Laura and Alec. Since it was the 1930s, much modesty was observed in their relationship.
Maybe the scene wherein they were undressing after plummeting down the river can be considered as one of the most erotic scenes. During that time though, it was necessary that simple handshakes and cups of coffee should be enough to express love for each other. In the said scene scene, both were catching up with their modesty but failed as they ended up kissing. The recurring water waving into the screen intensified the idea of passion in the love affair and probably another attempt at depicting repression. Even so, an emotional connection between the two characters was very much established despite the limitation of romantic contac.
The play has actually lived up to the original playwright. Not a lot of characters are needed to craft the play into something that is large, grandiose and festive. The presence of other couples has set love into three categories: a freer love affair for two people among the working class, young love that transcends all classes and a forbidden, unconsummated love. The impact of the fact that most of the audience already knew how it would end all the more made the movie heart-wrenching than ever. Those brief encounters between Alec and Laura made them seem as if they were stealing their chances on temporary happiness.
Most wonderful is the use of the props vis-a-vis the use of the film clips and the maximization of the stage space. In Alec’s first departure from Laura, Alec hopped into a small toy train which made an ironic spectacle. Contrast it to how they made the ending: across the front of the stage, they pulled a vast amount of screen material in which a storey-high clip of the train where our Alec rode off shot across the entire stage with Laura attempting to jump with a highly dramatic death. The contrast was quite an impact. A trampoline was utilized for Stanley’s entrance to the cafe, Beryl used a red scooter and rode around it.
She threw it away in an angered fit of tantrums. On the other hand, Laura’s children were played by two puppets. Some scenes used the screen as background. The use of the small objects gives a sort of a treat to the heaviness of the feelings of the audience. The use of the big train in contrast to the small props will make you cringe with the climax of the story. It magnified the dramatic sad ending of the story. Never could be an adaptation be more effective. It cannot be anymore clever and brilliant. It is a celebration of cinematography, theater and the totality of the elements of the performance.
The incorporation of the film clips made it more effective in the sense. If one will refer to reviews of other adaptations of this play, it would seem that the Kneehigh Theatre’s production is the best of after the film. Liverpool Playhouse’s version back to back with another of Coward’s works received the ire of the Catalyst Reviews thus saying: “The plays could easily have been turned into radio plays – visually seeing them was largely unnecessary – the sound effects, notably of steam trains passing through the station could easily have been transferred to the radio.
” (Serjent 12) Another rework shown at Burton Taylor which was directed by Christchurch student Georgie Paget got equally the same criticism although at notch milder. Alison Ireland of BBC made a rundown of the setting and the characters: A table in a station refreshment room is not so prominent on stage and the staff, who provide a comic, lower-class backdrop for the lofty tragic romance, are equals and fundamentally superiors in ‘Still Life’ – their robust humour, sensible decision-making, clear view of priorities and no-nonsense view of the world shows the upper class ‘love’ affair for the anaemic misery it really is.
(2) As for Kneehigh Theatre’s reviews, nothing could be seen but all praises. In Rice’s hands Brief Encounter is a clever, gimmicky production that has its fair share of [humor]. Yet there’s passion, tenderness and sensitivity in abundance; if you start to think about Johnson and Howard, it probably doesn’t last long because the two main characters are exceptional individually and as a couple. (Orme 4) Kneehigh theatre is sure known for its inventiveness and ingenuity. Any piece of playwright given to them is like being put in the hands of a very powerful magician.
Even the “Royal Shakespeare Company entrusted them with Shakespeare’s late “problem” play Cymbeline which Kneehigh took to Stratford as part of the Complete Works Festival. ” (Orme2) Coward’s work fell into good hands with Kneehigh Theatre. It became a masterpiece that we only briefly encounter. References Chadderton, David. (2009) Reviews –Brief Encounter. The British Theatre Guide. Retrieved April 17, 2009 from http://www. britishtheatreguide. info/reviews/briefenkneehighDC-rev. htm. Orme, Steve.
(2007) Reviews – Brief Encounter. The British Theatre Guide. Retrieved April 17, 2009 from http://www. britishtheatreguide. info/reviews/briefenckneehigh-rev. htm. Serjent, Colin. (n. d. ) Noel Coward’s ‘The Astonished Heart’ and ‘Still Life. ’ The Catalyst Reviews. Retrieved April 17, 2009 from http://www. catalystmedia. org. uk/issues/misc/reviews/Noel_coward. htm Shepherd, Mike. (2008). Introduction to the Kneehigh Theatre. Retrieved April 17, 2009 from http://www. kneehigh. co. uk/about-us/an-introduction. php.