Review: Brief Encounter @ Lichfield Garrick

Ever since their first appearance, Different Animal have pounced on iconic stories and remade them with reverent affection, allowing us to take a fresh look at why these fables enshrine treasured cultural values for us as a national family.

The Elephant Man was the perfection of this aesthetic, the company’s deeply moving portrayal of Merrick with its live-action immediacy for me outshining even David Lynch’s famous film.

I must admit that as soon as I heard they were contemplating pouncing on David Lean’s treasured Brief Encounter, the quintessence of British bottled up emotion with the added twist of its wartime production as everything British looked in danger of foundering for ever, I was afraid they might sink to the temptation to quite simply camp it up. Nothing could be further from that ignoble thought in this almost reverential version.

Different Animal's Brief Encounter

Different Animal’s Brief Encounter

It’s got plenty of tricks to preserve its immediacy as you would expect but I won’t give away any of its surprises. Suffice it to say that with live action, film, song and audience interaction this is a show that takes control from the off with the most velvet of hands in authoritative gloves.

Robin Lewitt is marvellous as Alec Harvey, the shy, honourable and idealistic, perhaps slightly unhappy-at-home young doctor overtaken by love, while Hannah Davies allows us to see the most revealing of chinks in her stiff-upper-lip middle class wife-and-mother’s armour.

But perhaps it is the rest of the multi-tasking cast who deserve the most praise, the excellent Chris Stanley principally Albert Godby the station master, Jessica James mainly as his incongruously coy squeeze Myrtle Bagot the station buffet battleaxe, Ellie Galvin as her downtrodden skivvy Beryl who also deserves a life and the excellent Chris Buckle who quite cheerfully seems to do almost everything else.

Add in Mr Branch’s inventive direction that commands a host of technical tricks plus an eye-popping mastery of stage craft that turns quite ordinary furniture into surprisingly sophisticated stage props (the row boat sequence is sublime) not to mention allowing the cast to burst into wistfully haunting song at every possible moment and you’ve got theatrical gold,

But through it shines most what seems old-fashioned now, the Britishness we secretly cherish in our deepest hearts.

If you love theatre, don’t miss this.

Brief Encounter runs in the Garrick Studio until Saturday (October 3). For tickets phone the box office on 01543 412121 or visit www.lichfieldgarrick.com.

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