Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Meeting a challenge head on

Brief Encounter

Dudley Little Theatre

Netherton Arts Centre


EVERY so often an amateur company can surprise you, in a good way, he added quickly, and last night it was Dudley Little Theatre with their stage version of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter.

This is the Emma Rice, 2008 Kneehigh Theatre version of Coward’s story of stifled love and is a multi-media  production with a script mixing David Lean’s iconic 1945 film with the play that it was based on, Still Life, with songs and film sequences thrown in for good measure.

It it not an easy choice for an amateur company, particularly one not known for musicals – or film making for that matter - but DLT rose to the challenge admirably with their own filmed sequences – and amusing titles –  all in period black and white on the big screen to interact with the live drama.

Coward never seemed to do ordinary people, despite, or perhaps because of that being the life he had come from. There are always some sexual undercurrents, some illicit pleasure or guilty secret in his relationships, with adultery, or the hint of it a favourite theme.

In Brief Encounter it is a love affair between couple who are married  but unfortunately not to each other. And there is the rub, the doomed relationship stifled by respectable middle class convention is contrasted by the more working class couplings in the station tea room between a waitress and confectionery seller and the tea room manageress and the randy ticket inspector.

While the doctor and his respectable married woman talk about it and load on the angst, the couples from the lower orders have no inhibitions and are at it like rabbits.

The whole play centres around middle class suburban housewife Laura Jesson, played with a beautifully clipped period accent by Rebecca Clee, and Dr Alec Harvey, with a similar period feel in voice and manner from film maker Tony Stamp. They give an excellent performance in the Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson pairing of the film.

Rebecca Clee as Laura and Tony Stamp as Alec, lost in a love affair with nowhere to go

The couple are utterly believable as unlikely middle aged lovers, no dark horses here. We don’t know of the doc’s marital life although he never seems to despair of it and as for Laura’s . . . boring rather than loveless would be the first thought having met her husband Fred, Mr Tedium himself, played in the Mogadon style of acting by Phil Sheffield, who also turns up as a bolshie soldier looking for a drink after hours, a lovelorn soldier singing an ironic song, and, along with an ensemble of six, playing any other part that needs filling from tea shop customers to passers by.

Meanwhile around their furtive, shall-we-shan’t-we affair , the station tea rooms are bubbling away with sexual chemistry with the pretentious Myrtle Baggot in charge, played with a certain hoity-toity air by Jackie Bevan - think Are You Being Served?’s Mrs Slocum running a cafe - who is being wooed with licentious enthusiasm by the station ticket inspector Albert Godbey, played wonderfully lustfully by John Lucock.

Then there is love’s young bloom with Myrtle’s assistant in the tearoom Beryl, played with a lovely period innocence by Jane Williams and Stanley, the mobile confectionary seller, who spends his life trying to find time alone with her.

Its all innocent fun, slap and tickle included, well slap at least, but they are all unmarried and free to carry on as they please, in contrast to our repressed, married would-be lovers from the suburbs, whose relationship is doomed from the start.

Although it is hardly a musical there are plenty of Noel Coward songs included such as I’ll See You Again, A Room with a view, Go Slow Johnny, Mad About The Boy and Cole Porter’s Begin the Beguine thrown in for good measure all accompanied by Robin Baggot and Chris Handley. The songs and music strangely lighten the play rather then become a distraction.

A flexible set gave us the essential tearooms, a restaurant and the Jessons’ home as well as Alec’s friend Stephen’s flat (Phil Sheffield again) where an intimate assignation was interrupted, while the filmed sequences again had a 1930s look about them – the play is set in 1938 or so – and were very professionally done.

Producer and director Lyndsey-Ann Parker and Frank Martino have managed to keep up a good pace and Caroline Mulhall lit the set well, particularly with the passing express trains.

DLT also managed to find some authentic period costumes to give a little more authenticity to what is a very satisfying and imaginative production. To 15-03-14.

Roger Clarke 

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