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Watermill Theatre - Brief Encounter

14th October to 13th November 2021

Review from Newbury Theatre.

Noël Coward’s play gained enduring fame through the 1945 film starring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. The play has been extended and adapted by Emma Rice, who said about a previous performance of her adaptation, “I don't feel people often get excited going to the theatre, and that’s a real shame. So that's our job: to give people a night out, and as a director I want people to laugh and cry." So you can expect more than a doomed love story from the Watermill production, with elements of humour and two other more promising relationships.

It’s not an auspicious start, with a confusing fast-forward to the end, the actors almost inaudible under the music, but it settles down into the station tea room where Laura (Laura Lake Adebisi) and Alec (Callum McIntyre) first meet. In charge of the tearoom is Mrs Bagot (Kate Milner-Evans) assisted by Beryl (Hanna Khogali). Many cups of tea are poured from a large teapot and – an amusing and interesting twist – a wide variety of sound effects are generated by one of the cast at the side of the stage.

Of course, the cast are actor-musicians and the play includes nine songs by Noël Coward and Musical Director Eamonn O’Dwyer, well sung particularly by Milner-Evans and Khogali.

Alec and Laura are torn between their growing love and the repressions of their middle-class morality. But the chemistry between them isn’t really there.

Charles Angiama is strong as the cheeky ticket inspector, getting it on with Mrs Bagot, and as Laura’s worthy but boring husband. Oliver Aston is impressive in his professional debut as Stanley, flirting with Beryl. The cast, including Max Gallagher the show musical director, also take on the other characters with panache: Laura’s acquaintances (including nice cameos of Dolly and Hermione from Khogali), soldiers and Laura’s young children.

Designer Harry Pizzey and Lighting Designer Ali Hunter have produced a dingy brown set that looks just right for the period. Under Director Robert Kirby, Emma Rice’s play bounces with energy and pace and is a delight to watch.

The Watermill have done us proud with outdoor productions during the last difficult years, and now it’s wonderful to be back in the theatre again.


Review from The Guardian.

Sparkling revival of Emma Rice’s forbidden romance

five stars
Emma Rice’s esteemed adaptation of David Lean’s classic 1945 film, Brief Encounter, that merged elements of the Noël Coward one-act play, Still Life, was first performed by Kneehigh in 2008 and widely praised for its innovativeness. Thirteen years later, in a new production directed by Robert Kirby for The Watermill theatre, it manages to be just as engaging.

After an accidental meeting in the train station cafe, reputable housewife Laura and local doctor Alec tumble into a passionate, forbidden love. Both are married, but neither can deny the chemistry. “You could never be dull,” Alec tells her, transfixed. Absorbingly played by Laura Lake Adebisi and Callum McIntyre, we root for their electric partnership, despite their infidelity.

In this sparkling revival, the couple’s love feels urgent and all encompassing. Their stolen time together moves quickly, but each moment is savoured. They beg for the refreshment room to remain open “a few minutes longer”. The days between their weekly meeting feel laboured and slow. In the scenes Laura shares with her husband, Fred (Charles Angiama), the sound of an unhurried, ticking clock underscores their conversation, while her time with Alec is accompanied by wild, romantic music played live on violins. The contrast between the relationships is stark.

In Kirby’s production, everything looks polished. The supporting actors swap between characters, costumes and a variety of instruments seamlessly. Kate Milner-Evans’s Myrtle Bagot is bursting with personality as she pours out cups of tea for comedic effect, with her short embodiment of a spoilt child, Margot, being another of the night’s standouts.

Coward’s songs, too, feel like a natural extension of the spoken drama. Hanna Khogali’s rendition of Mad About the Boy, as the giddy Beryl, is a marvel – her high notes impressive but never too showy.

Staged within a notably slick moving set designed by Harry Pizzey, the 1930s world gracefully comes alive. When a translucent curtain, echoing unforgotten memory, is drawn between the lovers in the play’s final moments, it is genuinely moving. This Brief Encounter is not one that will be forgotten fast.


Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

An emotional hit

Noël Coward's Brief Encounter is probably best known from the iconic 1945 black and white film directed by David Lean and starring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson.

Emma Rice's refreshing adaption not only focuses on the central characters, housewife Laura (Laura Lake Adebsi) and GP Alec (Callum McIntyre) who accidently meet in a station tea room and romantically fall in what is a forbidden love, but also on the relationships between the staff who work at the station.

The versatile, highly-talented cast of actor musicians are full of energy and play a variety of instruments from strings to washboard and perform such classic Coward songs as Any Little Fish, Mad About The Boy and A Room With a View with style and verve.

Kate Milner-Evans is wonderful as motherly tea bar manager Myrtle Bagot, who is having an amorous liaison with stationmaster Albert (Charles Angiama), who brings this cheeky character to vivacious life, as well as playing Laura’s stoic, boring husband Fred. Hanna Khogali brings much humour as the busy, yet sometimes belligerent, waitress Beryl who has her eye on Stanley (Oliver Aston making his professional debut).

Eamonn Oliver has created a superb score that show musical director Max Gallagher delivers with assurance. He also plays multiple parts with enthusiasm and confidence.

Despite boat trips to the countryside, cinema visits to afternoon matinees and Champagne dinners, the ill-fated relationship between the charming Alec and Laura is doomed.

Neither can leave their families – it’s the 1930s and morality and decency would not allow that.

Their final scene at the station as they say goodbye to each other is laden with pathos.

Harry Pizzey’s commanding set design impressively creates the period atmosphere with great attention to detail, which is enhanced by Ali Hunter’s haunting subtle lighting.

Robert Kirby’s imaginative direction creates a fast-paced highly enjoyable production and the use of Foley techniques where an actor physically makes the sound effects to the side of the stage was a magical touch.

Oh, what a treat! The Watermill have yet another hit. Book soon.


There are reviews from What's On Stage ("supremely joyous... an outstanding, life enhancing experience" - ★★★★★); Musical Theatre Review ("this production ticks everyone’s boxes... delightful" - ★★★★★); The Stage ("ambitious but uneven" - ★★); The Spy in the Stalls ("stylistic, atmospheric and a feast for the senses" - ★★★).