Based on the Screenplay by Noël Coward
Adapted and Directed by Emma Rice
Presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company
at Studio 54

Reviewed by David Spencer

I love the theatrical resourcefulness of Brief Encounter, the British import stage adaptation of Noël Coward’s 1945 screenplay, making an extended-limited engagement resurgence at the Roundabout Theatre’s Studio 54 haven on Broadway (after a sold-out engagement at BAM last season). In using spare, suggestive staging, curiously live-theatre-enhancing film clips, live musicians and a small, versatile ensemble, director adapter Emma Rice’s adaptation manages to be terribly cinematic without being cinema, a nice theatrical trick if you can pull it off—and she and her cast can, in spades…notwithstanding a certain degree of consciously winking at cinematic conventions, some of which is beautifully blended into the story…and some of which is less beautiful (and less necessary) editorial comment.

                        Where I found myself less than enthusiastic was with the narrative energy, and the spareness of detail in the storytelling—a kind of spareness that can often work in film where camera angles can change so starkly and the lens can fall in love with a face; but that onstage, because visiually you're forever at that pulled back perspective, leave “spaces” that have to be filled by other things; and if sufficient—and sufficiently organic—added dialogue, plot and characterization are not included among those things, those spaces can start to seem padded and/or attenuated. Bear in mind, Brief Encounter is, as the title might suggest, about an illicit affair between two married people who brush up against each other by chance. There’s really not much story there.

                        I will admit, there are those viewers, and of course many (given the production’s success), who have fallen as in love with this staging as its hero and heroine have with each other; but there seem to be an equal number (and I fall into their ranks) who find themselves impatient with the space filling, and for whom Brief Encounter isn’t brief enough. It really depends on whether you’re able to let mood and ambience sweep you away to a place where you don’t ponder the beats too much. The meal here consists of style way over substance. So choose to “dine” or not accordingly…

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