Friday, 27 March 2009

Brief Encounter (Touring, The Lowry)

Yes, I go to the theatre up North as well. While I am missing my favourites, Nicholas Le Prevost and Jonathan Pryce in their respective current plays down South, I am up here in the cold, enjoying touring companies at Manchester's Lowry and Royal Exchange, and The West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. I'll have you know that a lot of great plays are originated up here, the best musical I've ever seen was the WYP's Singing in the Rain nine years ago.
A couple of days ago the we were visited by angry art director Grant who was fuming that The National Theatre shouldn't be allowed to call itself so, how is it National if it's based in London? We, the taxpayers, pay for the shows that are put on there, and what percentage of plays then tour? Not many, some move from the National to other theatres in the West End, wow, that makes it more accessible to people in Durham. I'm not going to lie to you, I travel to see plays and I enjoy them wherever they are so long as they're good! It would be nice to see some more of the National's acclaimed plays tour, but there are good companies who do tour, the ETT (English Touring Theatre) and Peter Hall's Company (I believe it's called The Peter Hall Company) are excellent, but these great plays somehow don't make it to the West End! It's like there are these awful rules; you can tour but you can't be in London, so you can't be nominated for any awards. I just don't get it...
Brief Encounter is a Kneehigh Theatre production, responsible for bringing one of my favourite films A Matter of Life and Death- which coincidentally was at the National for a very short while- to the stage last year. The play is an adaptation of the 1946 film written by Noel Coward. I haven't seen the film, but why would I want to? I never saw Hitchcock's The 39 Steps but Alison assures me the West End play is scene for scene, though much much better. I saw a Coward play two years ago at the National, it was appallingly bad. Present Laughter, or as Anna rechristened it Absent Laughter (or as I rechristened it Laughter? Hello, laughter? Are you there?!) I am not a Coward fan, Round the Horne summed him up perfectly with their weekly piss-takes. So I was wary at the same time as trying to be open minded. If I'm honest I was hoping for another 39 Steps, but nothing will ever be that good. It was good though.
The show was brilliantly inventive and with a superbly talented cast of musical-actors, meaning not only could they sing and dance, they all played in the band too. If you're picky about projections in plays you obviously haven't seen it done right. The play is set in the 40s and yet it's completely natural to see a man or a woman walk through a projected screen and suddenly be in the projection in a pre-filmed bit of narrative. Style, that's all you need.
I was dreading Noel Coward musical numbers, Monty Python spring to anyone else's dirty little mind? But they were well used, none made me cringe, and going on a matinee made the experience (hundreds of little old ladies singing along) more surreal, it was like a time warp.
It was a fantastic play, but I imagine the film focuses on the lead characters (most films do), I far preferred the other two couples in the play, this is why I don't want to see the film, it was a great show with fab characters but the two leads were typically (in my non-expert eyes- all I have to go on it one play and a million Round the Horne sketches!) Coward lovers; weedy, wet fishes. Bleagh!

Oh, and by the way, this play is touring after coming from the West End.

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