It’s 1938 and weekly shopper Laura rests her weary court shoes at the station café before the train home.
Life is so monotonous that she may well cave her head in with a rock cake. That is, until Dr Alec parks his trilby on the table and puts the grrrr into eye grit removal. Laura has the air of a woman who might have accidentally knitted herself into her husband’s tank top, but sweet chirpy Alec soon tunes her cut glass whine into a flirtatious tinkle. “Two servings of doomed love over here waitress/usher/musician and do make it spectacular, would you?”
This show at The Lowry in Salford really is a magical unfolding; a smashing to bits of the classic film Brief Encounter, forming two layers – tragic love story and the canoodling capers of the station caff staff.
The minor characters who surround meetings between Isobel Pollen’s Laura and Jim Sturgoen’s Alec influence events behind the scenes with pan-like charm. They manage this while also retaining their own separate plot threads. Beverly Rudd as Beryl and Lucy Thackeray as Myrtle rubbing up against their male counterparts (Jos Slovick as Stanley and Dean Nolan as Albert) were the most fun for me. As the poshies struggle with the conundrum of champagne and roses versus shopping and runny noses, the hoi polloi sets about rows, snogs and giggles. This comedy four-some are accomplished performers and a joy to watch as they turn on a coin from song to dance with an ease and grace that betrays the assumptions of the characters’ capabilities.
Inventive theatrical tricks are a speciality of Kneehigh, the theatrical brains behind this production which has rich pickings in the tricksome department. There are unpredictable theatrical surprises at every turn, neither detracting nor irrelevant to the narrative.
As the story goes, the love birds’ chandelier swinging in secret rendezvous cannot last a lifetime. Their desperate bid to have it off is scuppered and, with upper lips trembling, they must call it a day. The snivelling audience audibly despairs at the parting. Apart from me. Going off some of the bullshit I’ve been privy to at railway stations, I’m not even sure Alec is a real doctor.
“You’ve been a long way away. Thank you for coming back to me,” says Fred as the play draws to a close, hoping that the milk she went for is still alright.
(Main image: Dean Nolan as Fred and Isabel Pollen as Laura in Brief Encounter, credit Steve Tanner)
Brief Encounter is on at The Lowry Theatre in Salford until February 24, 2018. For more information and tickets, click here.