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Brighton Year-Round 2024

Brief Encounter-Brighton Open Air Theatre

Cue Fanfare

Genre: Adaptation, Drama, Immersive, Theatre

Venue: Brighton Open Air Theatre


Low Down

Noel Coward’s classic vividly brought to life in a mesmerising production by an outstanding company giving us a night we’ll remember for a long time !


Given that Noel Coward’s classic is an “up-close and personal” experience on film -this production may appear an unlikely choice for an open-air presentation -but within seconds it becomes apparent that never was a venue more suitable!

In short- this presentation is one hundred percent perfection!

From entering the glorious amphitheatre at BOAT-one is immediately transported to the austere and claustrophobic world of war-torn Britian.

Adapted from both Coward’s original “Still Life” (a one act Vignette from his 1936 compendium – “Tonight at 8.30”) and his immortal screenplay for the 1945 British Romantic tragedy film- Emma Rice’s sparkling adaptation maintains the power and intimacy of both-pushing the theatrical boundaries to the limit.

I took my seat with slight reservation -that the logistics and physical conditions of Brighton’s open-air venue might hamper the piece’s romanticism and emotion- how wrong I was!

And we are not disappointed with   the choice of underscore -with Stu Barker’s music perfectly augmenting Rachmaninoff’s haunting original.

Director and producer-Patric Kearns has assembled a top-notch ensemble cast -onstage throughout who seamlessly blend at every stage to produce an unforgettable immersive theatrical experience. And what an experience the evening was. Even with the perils of this year’s unpredictable Summer- the windy conditions, the omnipresent a threat of rain and the whistling through the pa system add a haunting ring to every line of dialogue-reminiscent of wartime bombs.  A circling seagull even adds to the atmosphere and hair and costumes blowing in the wind are a perfect filmatic coincidence.

This is a fully immersive experience -with audience members joining the cast for a knees up onstage and Myrtle Baggot’s delicious buns being shared amongst grateful audience members.

The opening voice over of the original film classification set’s us off at a cracking pace. In the central roles of Laura Jesson and Alec Harvey – Anna Brecon and Jamie Kenna literally take the stage by storm and our attention is guaranteed from the outset.

Kenna’s characterisation combines polite reservation with searing emotion and both actors give powerhouse performances -multi layered and fully three dimensional- taking us on an emotional roller coaster.

To give strong performances within the confines of a theatre is one thing-but to maintain these in the open air-in unpredictable conditions-is commendable.

Every character is clearly defined- perfectly encapsulating 1930’s acting styles. Broad -yes-but never to the point of caricature. And thanks to this innovative stage adaptation – we are also treated to a pot-pouri of Coward’s songs that serve to mirror highlight the story’s key moments -including a brief but moving rendition of “A Room with a View” for Alec in act two-a perfect choice!

Callum Stephenson as Stanley -coupled with Carly Day’s Beryl give a superb rendition of “Any little Fish” beautifully covering a shift in the action – and both provide excellent vocal input throughout the evening – akin to a Greek chorus. They are both strong components of the show- with incredible vitality. In act two- “Go slow Johnnie” beautifully accompanies a row boat journey for Laura and Alec-with even a real blossom tree making a passing appearance.

Peter Lovstrom gives strong support as Albert Godby-with superb vocal projection and clearly defines three key protagonists with consummate skill-no mean feat – with minimal costume change.

As Myrtle Bagot – Claire Marlow is in fine voice and characterisation and her interpretations of “Mad about the boy” and “I am no good at love “-complete with period microphone -are particularly haunting. The mirroring of the stage action with the interpolated songs gives an incredible Brechtian feel to the show.

Everyone playing dual or multiple characters does so with aplomb and Josh Tomley gives a fine characterisation as Johnnie in act two.

Platforms and trains are simply presented with planks, step-ladders, the merest whisp of smoke and an entire cast juddering around the stage as an express train passes through. The production is blessed with excellent sound design by the show’s director.

Stage management is in the safe hands of Chris Radford and every prop and piece of furniture is meticulously chosen with care and precision. Jane Shakespeare’s costume designs are exquisite and stunning with sepia and monotone -subtly supplemented by flashes of red in shoes, handbag, gloves and handkerchiefs -pinpointing key moments. The whole production really is a labour of love.

Wind and a cold evening could never deter the energy and spirit of this stella cast-who have all risen to the challenge and passed with flying colours. This adaptation is not an easy piece for an al fresco setting- but given this unique venue- why go for the easy option when an outstanding company can give us a night we’ll remember for a long time. Even if you watch further performances in the rain-take your umbrella and the war time spirit will always prevail – Bravo to all!