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Review: Brief Encounter at The Royal Exchange is ‘a classic exploration of forbidden love with an incredibly talented cast’

Immerse yourself in the timeless allure of Noël Coward's Brief Encounter at the Royal Exchange, seamlessly blending classic elegance with contemporary resonance, exploring love, desire, and societal expectations.

The timeless allure of Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter becomes obvious in this production at the Royal Exchange, directed by the fabulous Sarah Frankcom and adopted from Emma Rice’s production.

Striking a delicate balance between the iconic film and Coward‘s original play, this rendition captivates audiences with its poignant narrative, stellar cast, and innovative approach.

Delving into the everyday lives of two individuals navigating the complexities of desire, tempered by that British ‘stiff upper lip’,  the production seamlessly weaves together elements of classic elegance and contemporary resonance.

The film features two middle-class characters, Laura and Alec, who meet at a train station and embark on a love affair.

Meanwhile, the play explores two other love stories simultaneously – providing an interesting contrast with their carefree approach to love.

This play is a poignant exploration of love, regret, shame and societal expectations.

A Stellar Cast Bringing Characters to Life

Brief Encounter by: Noël Coward  Credit: Johan Persson

Among the stellar cast, Christina Modestou‘s portrayal of Myrtle stands out as a true highlight.

Known for her work in Strictly Come Dancing and Love Actually, Modestou’s performance infuses the production with humour and charm.

Her rendition of ‘No Good at Love’ is not only powerful but showcases her exceptional vocal prowess, reminiscent of the greats like Victoria Wood and Nora Batty.

Ida Regan’s Comedic Brilliance

Ida Regan, as the timid Beryl, delivers a comedic performance that adds levity to the narrative.

Her sultry and seductive rendition of ‘Mad About the Boy‘ is a delightful surprise, highlighting her versatility as an actress.

The juxtaposition of her character against the main leads contributes to the production’s multifaceted appeal.

Hannah Azuonye and Baker Mukasa’s Compelling Portrayals

Credit: Johan Persson

In the roles of Laura and Alec, Hannah Azuonye and Baker Mukasa offer compelling performances that challenge preconceived notions of the characters.

Mukasa’s boyish charm and Azuonye’s portrayal of a woman overwhelmed by emotions provide depth to the characters, eliciting a sense of pity for the turmoil they endure.

Navigating Societal Expectations and Desires

The original Brief Encounter explored the tension between societal norms and romantic love and this production remains faithful to Coward’s essence.

Director Sarah Frankcom, working with Emma Rice‘s 2008 stage adaptation, skillfully bridges the gap between the 1930s setting and the contemporary audience.

A Harmonious Blend of Music and Emotion

One of the standout features of this production is its ingenious use of music.

Incorporating eleven of Noël Coward‘s songs, the production allows characters to express their emotions through melodies, creating a unique and unexpected sense of joy.

Beautiful harmonies from an exceptionally talented cast, beautiful dance routines, and even an impromptu saxophone solo into tap dance will keep you captivated by a well-paced classic.

While not a full-blown musical, the inclusion of live jazz, phenomenal singing, and cleverly selected songs enriches the storytelling experience, providing a nuanced backdrop to the characters’ emotional journey.

Live Jazz and Phenomenal Singing

The vivacious live band, skillfully directed by Matthew Malone, elevates the musical experience, providing not just a soundtrack but an integral part of the play’s texture.

The music harks back to another era of smoky rooms and surreptitious looks amongst clandestine lovers. It’s a real joy.

The choice to maintain a sparse staging, featuring only tables, chairs, and an iconic station clock, enhances the actors’ ability to command the 360-degree stage.

There are beautiful moments.

The betrothed lovers row amongst blossoms lazily on the water in the reveries of love.

Blossoms emerging from the clock and being held by the other actors is a particularly beautiful moment that stays in the memory.

Additionally, the subtle yet effective use of a rotating stage and shaking gantries simulates a passing train and adds a touch of realism to the production’s overall immersive quality.

Rose Revitt’s Set Design: A Visual Delight

The revolving stage, designed by Rose Revitt, beautifully captures the Art Deco style of the early 20th century while aligning with the play’s railway context.

The elaborate wooden stage becomes the canvas for high-energy dance numbers, creating a visually stunning backdrop.

Have to give a shout-out here for Matthew Allen, who not only has a beautiful voice – but breaks into a sublime saxophone solo and THEN a tap dance routine.

Incredible stuff.

A Production Worthy of Acclaim

In conclusion, Brief Encounter at the Royal Exchange emerges as a theatrical masterpiece, seamlessly blending classic elegance with contemporary resonance.

The innovative use of music, the stellar cast’s exceptional performances, and the thoughtful set design contribute to an unforgettable evening of theatre.

Director Sarah Frankcom‘s ability to navigate the delicate balance between Coward‘s original vision and the demands of a modern audience ensures that Brief Encounter remains a quintessential and relevant piece of theatrical artistry.

This production, with its consistent calibre, deserves the applause it receives, offering audiences a poignant and entertaining exploration of love, desire, and the complexities of human relationships.

Brief Encounter is on at the Royal Exchange from Sat 2 Dec 2023 to Sat 13 Jan 2024

You can get your tickets by clicking here

You can watch the trailer here

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