Brief Encounter at the Octagon - a thoroughly entertaining and joyful theatrical experience
By Steve Cooke
I must confess that the thought of spending a Friday evening watching a stage version of a 1945 film that was a staple of Sunday afternoon TV during my youth, didn’t fill me with enthusiasm.
How wrong I was! Brief Encounter at the Bolton Octagon is a thoroughly entertaining and joyful theatrical experience from Emma Rice.
A well-balanced combination of passion, humour, and music, expertly performed by a wonderful cast with multiple roles and in addition playing a variety of period-related musical instruments.
They are superbly complemented by the band itself, musical director and pianist Alex Weatherhill and double bassist Maximillian Lamprecht.
Central characters’, Pete Ashmore [Alec] and Anne-Marie Piazza [Laura], clipped delivery perfectly reflects the tones of 1940’s middle class England, achieving a heart-string-tugging chemistry in scenes such as when the rest of the cast serenade them to the strains of Go-Slow Johnny.
Originating in 1936 as Still Life a short Noël Coward play which became the famous David Lean film in 1945. For this production Emma Rice has added Noël Coward songs such as, Mad About the Boy and A Room with a View.
Although keeping Alec and Laura at the heart of the story, she has given a little more prominence to lesser characters with the blossoming of two other very different relationships. Railway station tearoom manageress Myrtle (Natasha Lewis) tries to pretend she is resistant to the charms of station guard Albert (Robert Jackson) and young tearoom assistant Beryl (Lara Lewis) is head-over-heels with cheeky confectionary vendor Stanley (Joey Hickman).
Brief Encounter tells the familiar story of furtive, middle-aged love between housewife Laura (Anne-Marie Piazza) and Doctor Alec (Pete Ashmore). Who meet in a station tearoom when he removes a piece of grit from her eye. They agree to meet every Thursday afternoon.
Their falling in love is signified by a lighting change and a falling slow-motion. In this production Beryl and Stanley become closer through dance and Myrtle and Albert have a passionate musical battle, on saxophone and trombone.
The set is perfect for the Octagon’s in-the-round space with the station tearoom adapting to become the restaurant, Laura's family home or Alec's friend's flat, enhanced by symbolic effects like railway tracks or stars shining out of the floor (great work by lighting designer Sally Ferguson).
The final play-out of Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto is moving contrivance that is followed by an outburst of well-deserved uproarious cheering and applause.
Until 5 November