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The Theatreguide.London Review

Still Life
Aldwych Underground Station      Spring 2003

A model of what fringe theatre can be, and a delightful option for the theatre-lover looking beyond the West End, this site-specific work by the young company called Angels in the Architecture offers a unique experience barely marred by minor flaws in performance.

Still Life is the short Noel Coward play that was the basis of the classic two-handkerchief weepie film Brief Encounter, about the two married people whose weekly meetings at a railroad station buffet turn into a never-consummated but deeply-felt love affair.

The young producers of Angels in the Architecture, Rebecca McCutcheon and Sarah Thom, have managed to convince London Underground to open a disused tube station near Waterloo Bridge, so the play can be performed in what was its ticket hall.

Designer Jonny Saunders has had little difficulty converting it into an evocation of the 1940s that invites us to believe in a world in which a romance that extends little further than shared bath buns can still move a pair of respectable middle-Englanders to paroxysms of guilt and frustration.

Directing the play, McCutcheon is a little less successful in sustaining a consistent mode and style in her performers, to the extent that the background material is more evocative and involving than the central story.

Dickon Edwards gives a restrained and natural performance as the doctor, effectively capturing the hints of an unfamiliar and uncomfortable passion fighting to break through stiff-upper-lip repression.

But this frequently clashes in tone with Helen Laing's housewife, as a result of the actress's much more artificial mode of telegraphing every emotion with broad mugging and stylized delivery of her lines.

Meanwhile, co-producer Sarah Thom chose to cast herself in a subsidiary role, but is so good that the play's bridging scenes involving the buffet staff, meant to do little more than establish the passage of time, repeatedly threaten to steal the show.

They're played in yet a third performance style of wittily-observed comedy and energised by Thom's expert high comic turn as the manager, with strong support from Sarah Toogood and Robert Goodale.

So, unlike the film, you're more likely to come away from this Still Life laughing than crying. But the combination of the inventive use of the unique setting and the parts of the play that do work makes this well worth the very slight detour to the unfamiliar and unlikely venue.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Still Life - Aldwych Station 2003


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