Adelaide Fringe 2011
Five everyday encounters are manipulated by playwrights Christopher Durang and David Ives to tease the audience, stir the imagination and provoke. As in reality, not every scenario is clear or has a satisfying conclusion. But the poignancy, humour, ludicrousness and intrigue interspersed with philosophy trigger meaning and profundity into each brief encounter.
Mrs Sorken, the bumbling, eager lecturer gives an introduction on theatre; its purpose, meaning, and why we go to the theatre. From there we witness the interaction between a sick man and multilingual (and bizarrely multicultural) doctor’s assistant. Ex-lovers Eric and Gail justify their different outlooks on life and cross into perilous territory as they reminisce over what could have been. The audience is then plunged into the typical situation of a woman sitting next to an eccentric young girl on a train—the awkwardness and uneasiness of the woman is well executed and dramatises most people’s fear on public transport. The final encounter of the evening is a ‘lost in translation’ set-up where an embellished interpreter attempts to play Cupid between a harried tourist and a young shopkeeper in the midst of an Arabian bazaar.
The script delivered five unique plays with unforeseen twists in the plot, which were, for the most part, well executed by the diverse cast members. It also explored in great depth the meanings that people take from different situations and encounters in everyday life—how different perspectives affect the outcomes of scenarios and the audience responded appropriately to the philosophical undertones in the dialogue. Although repetitive, it also perfectly captured different cultures and beliefs, underpinning the fact that people around the world have essentially the same outlook on relationships, love and existentialism.
Despite the romantic and intimate atmosphere of the venue, the set and lighting was minimal, with sound effects providing key background noises and the props seemed to highlight the economy and simplicity of encounters in real life. The few props that were used in the Dr Fritz scenario reflected the peculiar setting giving away no clues as to the country or region, thwarted by the assistant’s ever-changing personality and culture. Mrs Sorken’s opening monologue was isolated from the set design as well, relying on her character and interaction with the audience to proceed with the show.
Brief Encounters very rarely allowed the audience to escape to a different world as it relied on reality and real effects to drive the stories and develop the relationships of the characters. Unlike reality though, the characters were obliged to justify their actions to strangers leaving little to the audience members’ imaginations and limiting the extent to which they were able to engage with different characters and situations. However, Brief Encounters is an encounter that viewers are unlikely to forget.