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

The romance now arriving . . .

brief encounter cast

Alec and Laura messing about - and take that in any way you like - on the river

Brief Encounter

Swan Theatre Amateur Company


THERE’S love’s young bloom, and then there is love’s old bloom, and love’s middle aged and rather illicit bloom and love’s faded bloom. In fact there is a lot of blooming love in Brief Encounter.

The original 1945 film, directed by David Lean and starring Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard and Stanley Holloway, became a classic. Set around 1938 it was a story very much of its time, a time when a married woman, with a husband, home and children – in that order – having merely the hint of an affair was a scandal only just below treason and murder, and if the man was also married with wife etc. then the shame was doubled.

Noël Coward’s screenplay was adapted from his 1936 one act play Still Life  and Emma Rice has used both film and play for her 2008 adaptation which also introduces musical elements with Coward songs, giving a sort of Oh What a Lovely War music hall  feel, as well as introducing black and white filmed portions in what becomes a multimedia production.

But despite the songs and the film clips the greatest challenge to any production of the play is pace, or at least trying to inject it. The original one act and its subsequent film were slowly developing romantic dramas, hardly action packed, and Rice’s version, despite its modern twists, is telling the same story.

Essentially it is a tale of Laura, played with nicely measured middle class manners by Louise Broad, who like many women living comfortably in suburbia, heads into town to do her weekly shopping, no doubt delivered, goes to a local hotel for lunch, visits the cinema for a matinee then goes home to loving, if somewhat boring, husband and children.

Except one day, in the station tea room, she has a speck of dirt in her eye which is removed by a passing doctor, Alec Harvey, played by Tom Martin, who - a bit of type casting here - is a doctor.


The simple act of kindness sets in train a blossoming romance, two people who are in ordinary, comfortable if uninspiring marriages who see a spark of something more exciting. It was something certainly exciting to the theatre and cinema going public in the 30s and 40s, where real-life tales of scandal could fill the pages of newspapers for weeks.

Tom gives us a very reasonable, and gentlemanly would be adulterer – we are never quite sure whether their relationship has been consummated – while Laura only seems to have real doubts and regrets when they are disturbed after borrowing a flat from doctor friend of Alec’s when she might have been mistaken for a prostitute as she sneaks away. Whether that was their first visit there, nipping nookie in the bud so to speak, or their last . . . who knows.

She has already lied to friends about Alec which has come surprisingly easy to her and she seems genuinely smitten, a mother who has suddenly been given a chance of exciting romance, with Alec, handsome, comfortably off, with working hours to suit, there is always a suspicion at the back of the mind that perhaps this is not his first time playing away from home.

Behind the main lovers we have the station lovebirds with Myrtle, who runs the Milford Junction tea shop, played – and sung in sashaying style - by Michelle Whitfield, being romantically pursued, which she does everything to encourage by Albert, one of the station staff, played by Chris Isaac.

Myrtle is prim and proper on the face of it, but just as fun loving as Albert when she lets her permed hair down.


At the other end of station life’s rich tapestry is Myrtle’s waitress Beryl who is chased by Stanley, the station cake seller hawking his tray around the platforms, played by Nicholas Snowden. Stanley spends much of his time trying to make Beryl laugh and like him and even manages to arrange a full 15 minutes they can be together by closing the tea shop  few minutes early and getting home a few minutes late – ah those magic moments of first loves.

Beryl gives us a quite lovely rendition of Coward’s Mad About The Boy by far the best-performed song of the evening.

The rest of the cast of ten provide incidental characters, customers, friends and the like although per haps a few more people could have been employed to frequent the station teashop at times.

While, sitting in his chair throughout, quietly enjoying doing the crossword is Fred, Laura’s husband, a man with less charisma than his cardigan, played by Chris Kingsley. He is oblivious to the fact his wife is considering doing a bit of romantic freelancing, or is he. His final lines of “You’ve been a long way away . . .Thank you for coming back to me” could be taken as geographical or emotional.

As we said, the story is of its time, hardly the stuff of scandal today, and has the added problem of pace. The use of film is clever as is the injection of songs, but with 17 scenes and a slow moving story – this is a relationship developing on Thursday afternoons over a period of weeks - there is a tendency for the play to become episodic and a little stop start and director Janet Bright has done well to keep it moving along at a reasonable lick with no undue delays.

The set is simple, functional and flexible and Andrew Dunkley has produced some complimentary lighting.

A final mention must go to musical director Lucas Ball, who must have thought he was back in the silent cinema with incidental music and song accompaniment on the piano, and for purists, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 which featured extensively in the film, is there in the background. To 14-02-15

Roger Clarke


Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate