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November 2004
Still Life at the Burton Taylor
Still Life
Still Life

Still Life by Noel Coward
The Burton Taylor

Tuesday 9 November - Saturday 13 November 2004

7:30pm performances

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The Burton Taylor

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By Alison Ireland

'Still Life' is the original Noel Coward play on which his classic film 'Brief Encounter' was based. Anyone who knows the film will find it impossible to watch the play without drawing inevitable comparisons, at least to begin with - they are especially inviting as most of the script is common, albeit in a different sequence. However, the play, especially this excellent version at the Burton Taylor directed by Christchurch student Georgie Paget, quickly asserts its credentials as a very different beast.

Perhaps it was not Ms Paget's intention, but the play, although the predecessor, comes across almost like a pastiche of the film. Laura and Alec's affair, so painfully moving in 'Brief Encounter', is altered without cinema's subtle visual deception and indulgent focus and indeed, looks rather silly in the stage's less tolerant exposure. A table in a station refreshment room is not so prominent on stage and the staff, who provide a comic, lower-class backdrop for the lofty tragic romance, are equals and fundamentally superiors in 'Still Life' - their robust humour, sensible decision-making, clear view of priorities and no-nonsense view of the world shows the upper class 'love' affair for the anaemic misery it really is.

Was Noel Coward mocking his own class, and their inability to 'live' life? Laura (Freyja Cox Jensen) and Alec (Rob Honeywood) seem devoid of any natural behaviour and responses. Or was it just that the excellent, lively and convincing performances from Emma Jenkinson and Rob Hayward, two of Oxford's rising stars, as Myrtle and Albert, set the tone of the play - a wry, somewhat amused glance at love in the middle classes? Combined with Freyja Cox Jensen's breathy rendition of Laura, in the manner of Rising Damp's Miss Jones, and Rob Honeywood's adolescently intense Alec, there was much more comedy than poignancy.

A little-performed play, 'Still Life' was originally one of a series of ten short plays written by Coward which were randomly shuffled to make a different three-play bill each night. Here it is a revelation - an intelligently cocksure, tongue-in-cheek sibling to its big film sister and performed to perfection by this young cast.

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