Brief Encounter is an enduring classic. 70 years on and audiences are still moved to tears by the intensely moving storyline. Recently, the show became available to amateurs and The Fellowship Players were wise to pick up on this as swiftly as they did. It was abundantly clear from the sold-out audiences that this is an ever-popular story.
This particular adaptation is from Kneehigh’s Emma Rice (the soon-to-be Artistic Director at Shakespeare’s Globe). Mixing drama and music, this is a challenging production to tackle.
As we are transported to the quaint little tearoom at Milford, the set design (by David Tonks) is simple and effective. One of the obstacles to overcome on a fairly intimate stage is how to effectively portray a train station. The addition of lighting, sound and smoke - to replicate steam trains pulling in and out - was incredibly effective, a credit to Stan Vigurs, Sam Evans and Colin Mears.
When Laura Jesson stumbles into the tearoom one day with something in her eye, Dr Alec Harvey comes directly to her aid. The fallout is a passionate love story, as they promise to meet each other every Thursday. The characters around them serve the purpose of setting context, as well as providing some comic interludes to balance out the intensity of the production.
It is however Laura Jesson and Alec Harvey that ultimately drive this production forward. Played wonderfully by Jennifer Mears and Dan Holyhead, they made for an idyllic match. With emotion-fuelled performances from the moment they walked through the door during the pre-show natter, you were instantly enthralled by their story and under the clever direction from Rachel Holmes, you felt part of the action.
The only small quibble would be the music, although parts were completely fitting with the story, there were moments when it felt unnecessary. However the choral number at the beginning of the second half was charming, particularly Craig Hobson’s vocals, which shone in the ensemble pieces.
The comic relief provided from the hapless quartet of lovers, Beryl (played by Rebecca Holmes), Stanley (Stephen Ralph), Myrtle (Michelle Jennings) and Albert (Alan Lowe), were a stark juxtaposition to the unattainable love Laura and Alec strived for, which made the performance all the more poignant.
Also, special mentions to Sam Evans who delivered an assured performance as Laura’s emotionless husband, Fred and the pleasing vocals from Naomi Leeanne Millard as Hermione.
All in all, The Fellowship Players delivered an evening of thoroughly enjoyable and powerful theatre; they wholly deserve the sell-out audiences they have received.
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