Tuesday, 22 October 2013

A Coward's Tale

I've never seen the film of 'Brief Encounter' by Noel Coward and was only previously aware of it by reputation, so to find myself engrossed in Kneehigh Theatre's production at the Athenaeum Theatre in Melbourne was a delightful surprise.
This is a story which explores the complex nature of relationships in the very proper society of Britain during the early part of the 20th Century through the interactions of three sets of people.
Alec and Laura meet at the railway station where much of the action occurs after he comes to her rescue when she gets some soot in her eye. Although a mutual attraction is evident from the start, they are each married to other people and resist temptation for as long as they can.
This exploration of the fragility of relationships and how fear of emotional openness and the judgement of society can damage people and repress them is central to the story being told.
Alec and Laura must skulk and sneak about to be with one another and this takes a tremendous toll on both, but Laura in particular.
The other characters involved fair slightly better. The Teashop owner and her potential suitor perform a merry dance about one another (sometimes literally) until eventually succumbing to their obvious feelings for one another and are obviously all the happier at the end.
Whereas the two younger characters of the teashop waitress and chocolate vendor have no such hang-ups and flirt openly with one another. Their relationship moving forward at a greater pace than those of the older people around them.
The production makes excellent use of the space, with the cast dressed as ushers to begin with, greeting the audience upon entry before serenading us all with tunes from the period in which the play is set. Scene changes are quite beautifully executed, making use of projections, model work and sonic cues to indicate transitions.
Indeed a recurring motif is the use of footage and sound of waves crashing on a beach to emphasise the tide of emotions sweeping in over our protagonists in an unexpected an unfamiliar manner.
This is an excellent production which will have the audience laughing, crying and thinking about all those opportunities to take a different path in life. It is playing until October 26th and I highly recommend it.

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