by Phil Willmott.
Above The Stag Theatre Arch 17 Miles Street Vauxhall SW8 1RZ To 15 November 2015.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Sun 6pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
Review: William Russell 16 October.
Fancy our meeting for just one fond greeting…..
Phil Willmott has re-imagined Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter, originally a one-act play called Still Life, as a gay romance set in post-war London. It is an intriguing idea, but somehow does not work. Partly, because he gets the social nuances wrong.
The world Wilmott has imagined, like his characters’ behaviour at times, is simply not 1945 (and no man would have been seen dead in the hat the doctor wears). Coward was writing about a very specific period in time and two people who belonged to the same class confronted with falling in love totally out of the blue.
It is, of course, fashionable to perceive all sorts of gay subtexts to works by gay playwrights – above all, to Terence Rattigan with some reason – but in the case of Brief Encounter there is no such subtext. Those who perceive one are indulging in wishful thinking.
Willmott’s play is very interesting, but he sets-up a love affair across a social divide – married doctor and chest specialist falls for a railway porter, also married – which is not what Coward was revealing about the ways of the world. The doctor is closeted, the porter, being a working-class lad, knows all about how to cheat the wife. All is told in flashback as the manager of the station buffet finds an abandoned diary and learns of the affair, with a coda showing how different things are today.
Willmott’s direction is assured and inventive – he is a far better director than playwright – and he is lucky in his four-strong cast, whose performances are impeccable. Adam Lilley makes Lawrence Marsh, the buttoned-up doctor, completely believable, while Alexander Huetson as Arthur, the porter, is a perfect Galatea to his Pygmalion.
Penelope Day and Christopher Hines do stunning double-acts, she as the chatty lady running the station newsstand and as the doctor’s stay-at-home Home Counties wife, he as a predatory vicar, who knows a thing or two about Arthur, and a marauding copper who comes upon the lovers in the dark. In that scene Mr Willmott gets it right; the doctor pulls rank on the copper.
Sarah Marsh/Mavis Madden: Penelope Day.
PC Tom Blake/Rev Richard Craven: Christopher Hines.
Arthur Hollis: Alexander Huetson.
Dr Lawrence Marsh: Adam Lilley.
Director: Phil Willmott.
Designer: David Shields.
Lighting: Elliot Griggs.