(Post #2 for today. Please read below for more.)
Site Specific (or at minimum Site Inspired) theatre is quite the rage in London these days - Punchdrunk are the toast of the town, and as Masque of the Red Death comes to the end of its third extension the reopening of Shunt’s vaults are coming forward in the news. For those of us, however, without such avant-garde inclinations, Kneehigh Theatre have taken over the main screen at the Cineworld Haymarket, restoring it to its original live performance roots and bringing forth an inspired adaptation of Noel Coward’s classic film Brief Encounter.
Brief Encounter shows the darker side of Coward’s canon, with its ill-fated lovers separating at the end of their relationship as the play begins. What follows is the stormy, tumultuous burst and ebb of love between a research surgeon (Tristan Sturrock) and apathetic housewife (Naomi Frederick) set against a pair of more fortunate budding relationships in the train station cafe where the two first meet. The production revels in the show's age, with the serenades of early World War II and dance hall tuners bridging the scenes (all by Coward and in the original film), and while we know how things will end, we are reminded that the journey itself is far more important.
Regarding the novel usage of space, Kneehigh have truly made the Cineworld their own. With the band and minor characters dressed as period usher(ette)s, the audience is serenaded while being seated, and each act features a quintet setting the mood and scene. Kneehigh also pay tribute to the work’s original media, using projected backgrounds for moments of internalisation as well as a variety of clever foreground films including an end-of-interval satire on classic cinematic commercials. Neil Murray’s bridge and tower set effectively convenes a variety of locations, and one can almost feel the dirt in the railway platform’s air.
Despite a second act which could use a five to ten minute trim, Brief Encounter is a magical evening out and one well worthy of the hype surrounding the production. Tickets are going fast, so book while you can.
Where: Cineworld Haymarket
When: Tu-Sa @ 20:00, W/Sa @ 15:00, Su @ 16:00. Open run.
How Much: £25/29.50 until 2 March, £35/39.50 After.
Concessions: Cineworld Unlimited cardholders can get £5 off during previews when booking in person or over the phone.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £25. Excellent but lacks the repeat visit factor necessary to earn a fuller value.
RZ Other Notes: Someone needs to tell the house ushers (not the ones who double as actors/musicians) to back off of the customers. On the night he went, the RZ was approached no less than four times by programme sellers (twice by the same one). To top things off, he was sent in the wrong direction by the house supervisor when entering the auditorium. While the latter can be forgiven (the whole thing must be rather new to everybody onsite), the former almost caused the RZ to complain to a manager or SEE. Yes, this is where the house makes its money but enough is enough.