BOTTOM LINE: A dynamic and spirited adaptation of Noel Coward's play. It feels like a trip to a theatre themed playground.
As a theater enthusiast and practitioner, I have for some time marveled over the Kneehigh Theatre based in Cornwall, England. The thirty year-old group has a reputation for creating highly imaginative work through a creative process filled with fanciful whimsy and loyalty to a core company. Having longingly daydreamed about their process, and obsessively flipped through their production photos online, I was upset to have missed their production of Brief Encounter at St. Ann's Warehouse last year, but twice as excited about it remounting at Studio 54 on Broadway this fall, presented by the Roundabout Theatre.
Kneehigh's Brief Encounter is an adaptation by Emma Rice of Noel Coward's play of the same name. Rice, who also directs, interweaves elements of the Coward play, with the black and white film, also based on Coward's play, to create what is very close to a third genre all together in this multi-media, film, movement, theater hybrid. The actual story, which primarily revolves around an affair between two otherwise married individuals, becomes somewhat irrelevant during the course of the show. The heightened acting, which I assume is a throwback to the style in which the play and film were originally produced, acts as a wedge between any emotional connection between the characters and their contemporary audience. Surprisingly, this is only a small blip in the overall experience of this production.
Rice and the ensemble of musicians and actors have created a realm so full of stunning vitality and visual appeal, that the fact that the characters that exist in it sometimes feel a bit passé is almost irrelevant. To simply call this production a multi-media piece would be misleading. Projections and film play a major part in the story telling, characters walk seamlessly between the stage and literally into clips of the film, but the exploration of theatrical form doesn't end there.
Watching Brief Encounter is like observing a master class in theatrical possibility. A vivid world is created through seamless interactions between live performances and technology. The overall effect of all of these moments is really quite spectacular. Brief Encounter is the perfect show for anyone who believes in the possibility of experimental theater or has a great love for stage craft. It doesn't so much think outside of the box as it does expand it, and the end result is dazzling.
(Brief Encounter plays at Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street between 8th and Broadway, through December 5, 2010. Performances are Tuesdays at 8pm, Wednesdays at 2pm and 8pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm. Some schedule changes will likely apply. Tickets are $37-$127 and are available at roundabouttheatre.org.)