Sunday, January 31, 2010

Brief Encounter

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to see Kneehigh Theatre's version of "Brief Encounter" at St. Ann's Warehouse. I was leery of seeing it- I like David Lean's movie a lot, and I've seen it in the past six months. I have also read "Still Life," Coward's one-act that's the basis of the movie. But I was assured by many people (who knew so many of my friends were such romantics?) that that I had to see it.
I am all for deconstructing pieces of art- I do it myself. But I think it is a very delicate business, particularly with a film like this one. Anything heavy-handed, and it turns into camp or appears irrelevant (two people fall in love, don't have sex and go their separate ways- what, are they Mormons? This has nothing to do with me).
But the adaptation, by director Emma Rice, is pitch-perfect. The actors are uniformly good, and the use of both film and Coward's music (I thought I knew Coward's music pretty well, but I didn't know half the songs). The set, by Neil Murray, is beautiful and well-utilized.
The deconstructionist aspect came to mind when I was reading Larry Harbison's review on his website (link above), where he compared it to an Anne Bogart directed deconstructed narrative. But what consistently bothers me about Bogart is that regardless of the play she's working with, her productions seem more intellectual exercises with the emotion stripped out. Rice is able to keep the emotional reality intact.

1 comment:

Barry Rowell said...

I agree whole-heartedly with your review of Brief Encounter. This is the third time that Catherine and I have seen Kneehigh and we have thoroughly enjoyed all three productions. Emma Rice has a gift for punctuating a whirl of stage activity with wonderful stage pictures—those moments of stillness in the production are incredibly beautiful. I'm also amazed at how all three Kneehigh productions have incorporated the cast members playing live music and almost acrobatic performance skills throughout: there is clearly no shortage of multi-talented performers in Cornwall!

I also agree that Rice's work is much more passionate than much of Anne Bogart's that I've seen. It may be because Rice is much more interested in story and narrative than Bogart—and I don't mean that as a criticism. To be fair, I haven't seen anything by Anne in a couple of years but of the pieces I've seen, it seems to me that she's more interested in the intellectual connections between images and ideas. It doesn't make her work less beautiful for me—there are parts of her Culture of Desire, in particular, that I thought were absolutely amazing—but it is a cerebral experience and not everyone enjoys that as much as I do. Even the overt physicality in their work is markedly different: Bogart usually seems to me more abstracted movement (deconstructed, as you say), whereas Rice is more heightened, exaggerated and stylized—naturalism writ large, I find. Regardless, I think Harbison's comparison of the two directors is, as you indicate, misleading and kinda dumb: they're very different artists.