Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter is renowned for being one of the most haunting love stories. The award-winning Kneehigh production has triumphed in the West End, toured the world and received remarkable praise on Broadway, and now it is embarking on a UK Tour.
Winning the hearts of the nation, set in World War 2 it centres on Laura, a married woman who meets stranger Alec and they fall in love. Jim Sturgeon is returning to the role of love-struck Alec for the third time, he said he ‘didn’t hesitate for a moment when he was asked to do it again.’ Directed by Emma Rice and based on the film Brief Encounter and the play Still Life, Emma has directed the story into a consuming 90 minutes of theatre intertwined with live music.
“There is a lot more music and dancing from the other characters that enhances Alec and Laura’s love story. Emma just has adapted this to be the most charming and beautiful piece of work I’ve ever been involved in,” Jim said. “It’s been an absolute joy to return to, it has been almost four years since I last performed this play and you forget how wonderful it is.”
For the tour, they’ve had a much longer rehearsal period that has allowed him to take more risks during rehearsal. “I’ve done a different accent this time which gives a different flavour to the character,” Jim being from Scotland himself, is returning to his roots and playing the role with a Scottish accent as opposed to RP (well spoken English). “The rehearsal room is the place to make mistakes and try those things around and play which has been great,” Jim added.
The play follows Laura’s journey as she falls in love with Alec through a series of accidental meetings. “I think it is serendipity,” Jim said. “I don’t think Alec’s home life is a happy place, he is in a loveless marriage which I think would be quite common at the time.” When he falls for Laura, Jim describes him as being quite forceful of pushing their relationship together. “He is constantly wanting to meet again, but despite this, I think he is almost childlike in his love that he doesn’t know how to deal with it except to keep it going,” Jim explained. “He has found this passionate, full-bodied love with Laura that he has never known before and doesn’t really know what to do except pursue it.”
Jim describes Alec as a decent and honest man whose heart is ruling his head. “I’ve been really lucky because every time I’ve done the show I’ve had a different lady playing Laura, so each time it has felt new,” he said.
“Emma sprinkles magic dust on everything”
Emma Rice is renowned for her innovative approach to direction and Jim expresses his gratitude to be working with her again. “Emma is just great and she is so fun. She keeps everyone in good spirits in the rehearsal room, we feel like a real team. She is a genius, she really is,” he said. “I’d describe her as the gift that keeps on giving really, it is really hard to describe but she just sits and watches. She doesn’t really give notes, she just suggests things and makes you find your own way to do something which is good for an actor as you want to be able to trust your director and they can trust you.”
Brief Encounter was a huge success during its time around the world, and Jim believes it will continue to touch people across the UK. “I think it is just such a charming and beautiful piece of work. I remember every show you would have people outside wanting to talk to you about the show about certain scenes and moments that touched them,” Jim said. “Whether it is unrequited love or a full-blown affair, everyone can relate to it in some way. I think it is just the overall beauty of it.”
Brief Encounter opens at the Birmingham Rep on the 2nd of February, then moves on to the Lowry on the 20th of February before continuing on tour to the Empire Cinema Haymarket on the 2nd of March.