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.
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.
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
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.