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Posts Tagged ‘Still Life’

I was so keen to see this again, in a small theatre, and a favourite one at that, that I hadn’t realised that the last revival was only just over three years ago (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2018/04/10/brief-encounter). It’s Emma Rice’s best show (I feel qualified to say this as I’ve seen over twenty) but this revival is the work of Robert Kirby, whose work I don’t know. It turned out to be a very good decision to make the journey to Newbury.

It’s Rice’s adaptation of the film, which was itself a screen adaptation by Noel Coward of his own play, Still Life. The only thing we don’t get this time around is the film footage, but what’s added is brilliant on-stage ‘foley’ sound effects. The staging is different, but just as inventive, and the appropriateness of the cinema setting of 2018 is compensated by the intimacy the Watermill provides, making the unfolding romance more intense, beautifully played by Laura Lake-Adebisi and Callum McIntyre.

There are two other couples, of course. The young love of station buffet staff Beryl and Stanley, lovely turns from Hannah Khogali and Oliver Aston, and love in mature years from Kate Milner-Evans’ Myrtle and Charles Angiama’s Albert. These four play six other roles, with Max Gallagher shining too in his three roles. The nine songs, mostly by Coward, are performed by the cast, who between them play eight instruments, in the Watermill’s usual actor-musician house style.

Kirby, and his design team led by Harry Pizzey, have done a fine job in making the show their own, as much of a delight as on its previous two outings.

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As you walk into The Pit Theatre in the Barbican Centre, the cast of 19 and 2 musicians begin a 20-minute medley of Coward songs as a curtain raiser to this 3-play evening; what a lovely way to start.

I don’t often go to the Guildhall School plays (though I regularly go to their operas and musicals) but the opportunity to see these rarely performed pieces was too good to miss.

Coward originally wrote 10 short plays, which were performed in a rolling programme of threesomes (though one was only performed once). One of these three – Still Life – went on to become the film Brief Encounter.

The first shown here was Hands Across the Sea, a drawing-room high comedy that sends up socialites of the time (Lord Mountbatten allegedly believed it was based on him and his wife). It was beautifully staged with some fine performances from young people acting old believably.

The Astonished Heart was a much darker tragedy / melodrama with a very believable jump from the apartment balcony! I found this more difficult to get into.

Still Life is a bittersweet romance with added comedy from the station staff who often seem to be in a different play. The passing trains were created by sound and smoke, including highly effective offstage crockery rattling!

These plays show Coward’s range – much more than comedy, music and musical comedy. The last Coward I saw at GSMD – Peace in Our Time – was also fascinating, showing an occupied Britain after the second world war had turned out differently. Why are these so neglected whilst we’re subjected to endless revivals of the safer Hay Fever and Private Lives?

The production values are beyond fringe and the company is extremely strong; a treat for less than the price of a cinema ticket!

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