21 Belvoir Rd
Cheshire WA4 6PE
Phone: +44 7725 234022 Facebook Twitter Instagram Youtube

REVIEW - Brief Encounter - This glorious classic has been given the attention, understanding and admiration it deserves


We visited the Octagon Theatre, Bolton on Friday to watch Brief Encounter. Read what our reviewer Karen Ryder had to say about this wonderful production...

Whoever thought that a railway station could cause so much drama, passion, and intrigue?!  One day, you’re just waiting for your train, minding your own business, the next – you meet someone who impacts your world with such force, you know that it will never be the same again.  Brief Encounter is not just a classic, it’s a piece of art, put on a pedestal for good reason.  Written by Noel Coward, nominated for three Oscars, winner of the Palme D’Or, and with a stella cast of stars, the film embraced its adoring audience, and set itself up in history as one of those untouchable, perfect examples of cinematic gold.



The creative team behind this adaptation to stage have therefore got to be some of the bravest individuals out there.  Adapted by Emma Rice for stage, the introduction of songs by Simon Slater, directed by Paul Robinson and produced via the collaboration of Bolton Octagon, Theatre By The Lake, and Stephen Joseph Theatre, this glorious classic has been given the attention, understanding and admiration it deserves.  The story has not been changed, the production of theatre verses film has simply enhanced the storytelling through new and exciting methods, resulting in a stunning and tender new lease of life.  This production holds Brief Encounter with a comparable amount of loving respect as you would use modern technology to touch up an old but adored family photograph, ensuring new generations can still enjoy its story for years to come.  



Laura and Alec are both respectable members of their community, both married, and both with children.  Laura’s routine sees her taking a train every Thursday to the local town for a bit of ‘me’ time, whilst Alec, a doctor, travels to work in the local hospital.  So, who better to help you out when you have a piece of grit stuck in your eye than a doctor right?  It seems after this chance meeting, their paths are destined to cross for they accidentally bump into each other again, and from there it expands into a lunch, a matinee, a relationship.  What started out as innocent quickly develops into something more, shocking them both but seemingly powerless to resist.  A mirror is held up to their truth when they bump into friends and instead of being able to offer a truthful explanation of innocent friendship, they find themselves lying about their connection.  This lie implodes their values, their essence of wrong and right, and the invisible line that they believe is uncrossable, until Laura and Alec find themselves alone with purpose in Stephens flat – a doctor friend of Alec’s.  Stephen returns home earlier than expected though and provides Alec with a diagnosis of judgment resulting in symptoms of shame and humiliation in Laura.  She flees the apartment and finds herself back in the café where she met Alec, working out her inner turmoil.  Both Laura and Alec conclude that a life together, either through affair or honesty, is impossible and agree to never meet again as their temptation for each other is one they aren’t sure they can resist.  Their final meeting place is the railway café – the same place they met, and whilst they had planned a heartfelt and poignant goodbye, life intervenes once again as a friend of Laura’s casually joins them.  Oblivious to the fact she is stealing their final goodbye, Dolly chatters on.  As Alec leaves Laura life forever, they are unable to express the ache this causes them and cannot even hug because Dolly won’t leave.  As the train steals Alec away from Laura forever, she is bereft.  She briefly contemplates ending it all by throwing herself on the tracks, but her conscience wins out and she takes herself home to her husband and children, where her husband Fred thanks her for coming home to him.      



Anne-Marie Piazza (Christmas Carol, Prince & The Pauper, Swallows & Amazons) takes us on the most honest and human emotional journey.  Whether you identify with her situation or not becomes irrelevant as her strength lies in her ability to draw you in to such a wide range of emotions to which we all can identify, from feeling trapped to exhilarated, love and passion to despair and hopelessness, anger to joy and promise to loss.  Piazza must be completely drained after performing because she leaves everything on the stage with her generous performance and will leave you reaching for your sleeve when you realise you’ve used up all your tissues.  Pete Ashmore (Zorro, Jungle Book, Christmas Carol) is open, honest, and persuasive as Alec.  He too works his way through his feelings, surprised by the speed and overwhelming nature in which they arrive, with words tumbling out quicker than a runaway train.  He drives the relationship forward, and expresses his love beautifully with every emotion etched onto his face. 



Lara Lewis, Joey Hickman, Natasha Lewis, Robert Jackson and Rishi Manuel create a delightful and hugely valued cast of characters between them, supporting, strengthening and spurring the story on, giving us chance to catch our breath, digest and understand.  This is particularly true of the other romances that are seamlessly threaded throughout the story, but which provide light relief and comfort against the harrowing tale of Laura and Alec.  There may be two main roles in this story, but this cast beautifully provide the foundations to support and allow them to flourish with such solidarity.  Jackson is able to portray opposing characters in love with utter clarity and believability, Lara Lewis gives us a more tender and carefree youthful love, making your heart sigh with content. Natasha Lewis is comedy gold as Mrs. Bagot and her timing ensured she was quite capable of creating moments in the spotlight for herself.  Hickman convincingly switched from young love, to imposing bully with such impressive ease and Manuel seemed to be every all at once, and convincingly played a child so well that even I wanted to hug him when he wasn’t well.  Oh, and add in to their amazing acting the fact that this cast all sing and all play instruments too, from the trombone to the accordion!  So much talent in one small cast.



Now can we just stop to take a moment and appreciate the music please.  Firstly, I am pleased to say that there are nods to Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 provided in this production, arguably one of the most well-known classical concertos there is thanks to the film, but also there is the brilliant addition of further songs arranged by (Mad About The Boy) or music written to Cowards lyrics by Simon Slater (No Good At Love).  The use of such timely Coward songs is a clever and welcome additionMusic is known to drive emotion, so it is a brilliant way to heighten our already tender emotions even further and push focus in the intended direction.  


The staging somehow manages to fully immerse you in the various locations, from a railway café to a park, an apartment, a living room, a dance floor and of course the train station itself – each with infinite details such as steam coming out of a stairwell to represent an approaching train, scones in the café as well as crumbs on the table, an aga, milk for the missing cat, boats, and record players.  You are drawn into the performance from the second you set foot in the theatre, with actors dressed as old cinema ushers, guiding you to your seats, and the introduction of Beryl and Mrs. Bagot as they open their cafe to us all, welcoming us into their world.  A pianist nestles in the corner, tinkling out some well-known songs for which the audience join in, truly making you a part of the story in a way that will be subtly unknown to you until you are breaking your heart at the end.  Beyond the story itself are little nuggets sprinkled throughout the performance that remind you of the joy of live performance.  For instance, when Laura and Alec first meet and he is trying to get the grit out of her eye.  As Alec gives her instructions such as look up, hold still and so on, the other actors on the stage are so engrossed in watching a doctor at work, they instinctively join in his instructions, providing the audience with a giggle as we have fallen prey to such moments ourselves.  Or the moment when Beryl and Mrs. Bagot settle down for their tea break on the theatre steps next to audience members and share their scones with the unsuspecting guests.  Then there is the serene dance between Laura and Alec that allows rose petals to gently float down from above as lights simultaneously drop into position, and the unexpected live music that floods our senses.



This is a sublime production of Brief Encounter and observes the impact of love from many different vantage points.  It shares its passion, its comfort, its unconditional nature, its ability to break you, to heal you and to make you lose sight of everything that you thought you believed in.  Love is fundamental to all of us.  It continually surprises with its shapeshifting ability and can wrap you up in safety, expose you, and trip you up at its whim.  It is to be admired, embraced, respected and explored.  So whenever love surprises you, acknowledge it, even if you don’t act on it, because to know love, even if it’s just for a Brief Encounter, is to be alive.



You can see Brief Encounter at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton until Saturday 5th November.





Follow Us
Join Our Free Mailing List