Sunday, December 5, 2010

In Brief

Last night, Richard and I did something we haven't done at the theatre in a long time, if ever: we walked out at intermission. The show was the Vancouver Playhouse production of Brief Encounter, Emma Rice's adaptation of the 1946 David Lean film, itself based on the one-act play, Still Life, by Noel Coward. Never mind that Max Reimer's production is as all-over-the-place and mish-mashy as his cast's accents; the play itself is a travesty of styles and tone, a burlesque of Lean's beautifully restrained film, which zeroed in with unflinching intensity on its two principals' willed suppression of their desire for each other. The train station tea shop was a perfect metaphor for the temporal fleetingness and what ifs that defined their relationship: but in another place, at another time, they might have been allowed to remain together.

By opening up the action to the supporting characters in the shop, Rice creates some additional stage business to be sure, but why clutter that up with so many theatrical tricks? Puppets, song and dance numbers, toy trains, a bicycle, and all the winking acknowledgements of the audience--and that was just the first act! Then there's the piece's integration of filmed sequences into the live action on stage, the element that seems most to have caught audiences' imaginations in the UK and on Broadway, where the show just closed after what I gather was a reasonably successful run. I don't know what all the hoopla is about--the effects were really quite pedestrian, to my mind, and made what The Electric Company did earlier this fall with Tear the Curtain! seem downright genius (which, as you may recall, I also had major caveats about).

There was a twinge, as we collected our coats, about not sticking around to see what the production does with Alec's fellow doctor-friend, Stephen Lynn, whose flat Alec borrows for an aborted rendez-vous with Laura in the film. As Richard Dyer has famously--and most convincingly--argued, Stephen is quite clearly coded as gay, and it would have been interesting to see what Rice does with this in our post-Wolfenden, post-queer, post-post era. However, after the butchering of Rachmaninoff to close Act 1, we decided it wasn't worth sticking around to find out.


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