Review: Brief Encounter at the REP | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: Brief Encounter at the REP

Culture critic Alice Kiff reviews Kneehigh Theatre's 'wonderfully eccentric' production of Brief Encounter at the Birmingham REP.

Blending Vaudeville inspiration, classic music hall hits and wonderfully eccentric staging, Kneehigh Theatre have brought Brief Encounter back to the stage, from where it originated, and most importantly, to be seen by new audiences.

Blending Vaudeville inspiration, classic music hall hits and wonderfully eccentric staging

Isabel Pollen (Laura) and Jim Sturgeon (Alec)

Based on Noël Coward’s play Still Lives, Brief Encounter tells the tragic tale of a married man and woman who, due to a chance meeting in a train station refreshment room, embark on a deeply passionate, secret love affair. Though the basis of the show is tres doom and gloom, the show is anything but, as Rice employs an excellent ensemble to offer comic relief and musical interludes between scenes.

The ensemble are the highlight performers in the show, particularly Beverly Rudd who skips seamlessly between her roles, and Lucy Thackeray who plays the exasperated owner of the cafe with a fond fancy for the train conductor. The slapstick was a little overdone, but the ensemble excelled in their musical contributions, performing an array of Coward’s tunes throughout the show. Live music on stage is often something which raises the calibre of a show, and the ensemble’s employment of instruments from upright bass to electric guitar was stellar.

Jim Sturgeon was loveable and inoffensive in his portrayal of Alec, the leading man, and Isabel Pollen played a charming Laura. I was however left underwhelmed a little by the leading couple; it was no fault of the actors at all that the main two characters of the show are, well, a little thin. There were definite moments where they captured the attention of the theatre - from their forbidden, longing gaze at each other after an excursion on a rowing boat, to the sadness of the goodbye which was stolen from them, these felt more like expressions of emotion rather than an expression of who these characters were.

At times the emotion can be a little misplaced, and there are parts where the production could have been scaled back, and characters who could have been more developed. However, scene after scene Rice pulled something new out of the bag, and Brief Encounter left me with an excitement for the productions Kneehigh is capable of, and very eager to see their future work.

Brief Encounter is performed at the Birmingham REP Theatre until February 17th. More information can be found here.



9th February 2018 at 9:00 am

Images from

Birmingham REP