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Encounter review at Above the Stag, London – ‘intelligent and sympathetic’

Adam Lilley, Alexander Huetson and Christopher Hines in Encounter at Above the Stag, London, Photo: PicsByGaz Adam Lilley, Alexander Huetson and Christopher Hines in Encounter at Above the Stag, London, Photo: PicsByGaz
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Noel Coward’s 1936 short play Still Life is a bittersweet observation of two very ordinary people facing the guilt and passion of an extra-marital affair. Expanded for the screen and retitled Brief Encounter, this masterpiece of understatement is generally considered to be one of Coward’s more universally accessible works.

Writer/director Phil Willmott’s new play Encounter, uses a similar set-up to tell the story of two gay men in 1947, whose extra-marital affair is not only frowned upon by society, but also proscribed by law. Willmott lovingly embraces the period British drama, using language and location to provide light humour throughout while the central love story is handled with intelligence and integrity.

Much of the play’s success rests on the chemistry between Adam Lilley’s conflicted, suburban doctor and Alexander Huetson’s affable stationmaster. Both actors negotiate the potential minefield of cliche with enough sincerity to create a wholly believable, if inevitably doomed affair. Penelope Day provides sympathetic support in pivotal female roles and, completing the cast, Christopher Hines provides conflict as both a police officer and a piqued cleric.

Willmott’s play is bookended with flashes of a contemporary gay relationship, lending an air of celebration to mark the huge legal and social changes that have taken place since Coward’s day.

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Verdict
An intelligent and sympathetic reworking of a classic romance, shaped by finely nuanced performances
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