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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at St. Ann’s Warehouse


  Tristan Sturrock, Hannah Yelland/ Ph: Pavel Antonov

Brief Encounter, the 1945 movie, is preponderantly wet, in every sense. You feel the fog wafting about the drab British railway station where housewife Laura Jesson and Dr. Alec Harvey meet for their yearningful platonic assignations. Also, their instant mutual devotion seems as goopy as it is precipitous.
Brief Encounter, the Kneehigh Theatre stage adaption, on the other hand, is gloriously dry. While honoring Noel Coward’s script (and tossing in some of his witty songs), adaptor/director Emma Rice tricks out the basic storyline with all sorts of distancing – and infallibly amusing – stage magic. The two leads (played by Hannah Yelland and Tristan Sturrock), for instance, are forever plunging through a slit movie screen to rematerialize, blown up, in filmic black-and-white.
Locked into their assigned roles (her, stricken; him, dashing), Yelland and Sturrock aren’t allowed much range. As in The 39 Steps (another successful screen-to-stage, Britain-to-US graft), it falls to the secondary players to juggle a handful of shifting roles.
Amid a crack ensemble, Annette McLaughlin and Dorothy Atkinson stand out in particular (you’ll spot them as singing usherettes during the pre-show). McLaughlin, supplemented by a generous false bottom, plays the lunchroom’s tyrannical proprietress, a self-styled vamp (she gets to sing the marvelous “I Am No Good at Love”), and Atkinson the various sub-par waitresses who attend the lovers as they work their way up the food chain. Toward the end, McLaughlin and Atkinson appear as stuffed-dog-walking matrons who, in spotting Laura out strolling with her equally married beau, signal that this midlife jig is just about up.
Playful as her take is, Rice’s affection for the source material is everywhere evident, such that, ultimately, the would-be lovers’ plight doesn’t seem all that overblown. This film-made-flesh grounds the pair’s muted, high-minded passion in the lively absurdity that we all inhabit. 


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