Brief Encounter is a tale of forbidden love and fake reality, shown to the audience through a variety of different techniques including song, dance, physical theatre, and captivating uses of interactive screen play, brought to us by Kneehigh, a theatre company originally from Cornwall who have been touring with their work for the last 30 years.
In the pre-show, we are immediately reminded that this IS in fact a show, breaking the fourth wall between the audience and the performer (although it could be argued that there was not even a fourth wall to break as we are reminded from the offset that this is a spectacle). There was a live band, which also acted as the chorus, made up of bagpipes, a ukulele, a cello, and a singer, providing light comedic entertainment at the beginning and throughout the piece, with light and cheerful originally written music, alongside charming and sweet dance sequences. The band and chorus grew and shrunk in size throughout the piece, with a pianist joining the ensemble providing a cheerful backdrop of music for the dialogue present on stage. Other instances of breaking the fourth wall were also present in the piece, such as looking to the audience as if to look for reassurance and guidance in the situations the characters found themselves in, and with the children being puppets and being able to clearly see who is controlling these puppets, highlighting the artificial reality of the performance. This in turn could highlight the fake reality of the country in 20th century England.
The artificial sense of the performance came with conventions such as clearly miming when eating food and drink; there was no sense as to trying to convey they were drinking tea and instead they drank air. One of the funniest artificial situations was when ‘Alec’ and ‘Laura’ were in a boat on stage, with an orchard tree being held up by Dean Nolan which was in the way, knocking both actors into the ‘water’ with the ‘splash’ made by Beverly Rudd, chucking water towards the two characters on the floor of the stage. Having these situations being so clearly fake and artificial could represent the forged way the two protagonists are living, being clearly in love with each other but keeping their relationship in the shadows. It could also represent society in 1938 England, with people being obsessed with what others think of them rather than what they think of themselves, and trying to act a ‘higher class’ than you actually were to gain social acceptance (qualities still present in our society today). This is also seen in the character of ‘Myrtle’, when her ‘real’ accent comes out (that being more northern and low toned) when she gets an overriding sense of emotion or feeling, such as when she gets angry or flustered when ‘Fred’ teases her and she forgets to put on her act when pure and real emotion is involved, suggesting emotions and feelings conquer all acts to hide the truth.
The ticking of a clock is a backdrop to the scenes between ‘Laura’ and her husband, which could be representing the mundane life they both are living, with Laura unhappy and her husband blissfully unaware continuing to carry out the newspaper crossword, whilst also representing Laura’s mind, counting down the seconds until she can leave, until she can next see Alec.
The innovative use of the technology of a pre-recorded video is the thing that made this performance extra memorable, with a black and white screen on stage, and actors responding and talking to the screen as if it were live, with impeccable timing from the actors they were able to seemingly walk through the screen on stage and into the recording, adding another dimension to the performance. At different intervals throughout the performance, the whole cast moved together in a brief moment of silence as a wave crashed onto the shore, each performer stopped what they were doing and carried out this simple movement in total synchronisation, which could represent a brief moment of clarity in the hectic lives they live, and although all from different backgrounds, they all have the inescapable concept of time that none of them can avoid. Interwoven in the plot are three tales of forbidden love, between Albert and Myrtle, Beryl and Stanley, and Alec and Laura. Each situation makes us question the extremities we would go to for love. A dreamlike sequence towards the end of the performance seems like a glimpse into the lives Alec and Laura could have had, and a reminder of the dazzling nature of true love.