EPT’s Encounter

Mar 22 2024 | By More

EPT take on Emma Rice adaptation of Coward

Emma Rice’s adaptation of Brief Encounter, the David Lean 1945 film, is brought to the Church Hill Theatre stage by Edinburgh People’s Theatre for four performances only, this coming week, Wed 27 to Sat 30 March, 2024.

Here, we talk to EPT’s director Jacqueline Wheble about the production.

The film of Brief Encounter, scripted by Noel Coward, was itself based on his 1936 script, Still Life. This was part of Tonight at 8.30, a ten-play cycle of short pieces written by Coward as a vehicle for himself and his leading lady of the time, Gertrude Lawrence.

Brief Encounter preview shoot: Family doctor Alec and respectabe housewife Laura. Pic: Graham Bell

In her adaptation, first staged in 2007 by the now sadly defunct Cornish theatre company Kneehigh, Rice brought elements of both Coward’s original short play and his script for the David Lean movie to the stage. Adding several of Coward’s own songs into the mix.

Both film and original short play tell the story of a Laura and Alec (played by Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in the movie), who are each locked into a loveless marriage. Their relationship is chronicled after a chance encounter in a railway station cafe grows into something more.

EPT’s production is directed by Jacqueline Wheble, who has performed in several of the company’s recent productions. Notably, she also helmed its successful take on Brassed Off, another film adaptation, which was at the Church Hill this time last year (★★★★☆ Tragicomic grandeur).


We spoke to Wheble about EPT’s new production and asked her about the difficulty of bringing something so well known to the stage.

Brief Encounter is such an iconic film,” she says. “Written by Noel Coward and loved by so many people, we all felt we had to honour its spirit. It was a little daunting faced with such passion for the film, but Emma Rice and Kneehigh’s adaption does this so skilfully with the verve of Noel Coward at its heart.

Brief Encounter preview shoot: Laura and Alec are served tea by waitress Beryl. Pic: Graham Bell

“The play has been revived by many companies over the years, receiving many plaudits. We thought Cowards’ 125th year celebration  was the perfect time for us to revive it.

“Whilst keeping most of the famous scenes and script from the film, there are added characters that enhance the story and some of Noel Coward songs are thrown in for good measure. The joy of working with an amateur theatre company like EPT is that we can populate the world of Brief Encounter with lots of people as we aren’t constrained by actor’s salary costs.”

It’s not just a matter standing there delivering the lines, of course. Part of the innate structure of the piece relies on a realistic recreation of how life was in the 1930s. Not only in fashion, but in mannerisms of all kinds.


“We’ve had so much fun creating characters from the 30s and building them into the action,” says Wheble. “We’ve got a few first time actors mixed in with experienced old timers which brings such energy to the stage and the cast have been up for anything.”

“We’ve all found it fascinating researching the late 30s and working on creating the right feel, from hair styles and hats, to how you would drink your tea.

Brief Encounter preview shoot: Beryl and Myrtle in the station tearoom. Pic: Graham Bell

“Of course, we’ve gone back to the film each time as the perfect source of information (any excuse to watch this gem of a film) and the internet is a wealth of information with some great images from the original 30s adverts.

“But we’ve turned some things on their head and are creating the sets in front of the audience, making some of our own sound effects and even rowing a boat (of sorts) across the stage.”

To say that attitudes have changed somewhat in the 95 years since Coward wrote Still Life is something of an obvious truism. The question then, is how to make it – and its 1930s sensibilities – relevant for modern audience.

transcends our time

“We did wonder if some of the younger audience might find it hard to empathise with Alec and Laura’s dilemma, both married with children yet falling in love after a series of chance meetings,” says Wheble. “But the story rings so true.

“Their situation seems to transcend our time as the actors portraying the roles: Larry Weil and Torya Winters, give such nuanced performances we are drawn into their world. We did make some analogies with Noel Coward’s own life, he was gay in a time when homosexuality was illegal and even now relationships that are outside the norm can struggle to continue with society’s pressure.”

Brief Encounter preview shoot: Stanley the porter and waitress Beryl. Pic: Graham Bell

Having addressed the era, what then of the staging. Have EPT managed to bring a train to the Church Hill stage?

“Trains are a major presence in this play and rehearsing right next to the train line as a freight train rumbles past has really added to the feel,” says Wheble. “The Church Hill Theatre does have a huge stage but not really train sized so we are very lucky to have lighting genius, Nigel Jarvis and magic sound designer Olaf van Dijke who will make our audience swear blind a train just went by!

“One of the most delightful elements of this adaptation is that we are treating the audience like they are part of the play: there may be some buns flying about with the distinct possibility of a wee dance and a sing-song thrown in for good measure.”

This is something of a labour of love, then, in more ways than one…

Wheble agrees, quoting Noel Coward himself: “’The stars can change in their courses, the universe go up in flames and the world crash around us but we’ll always love going to the pictures (or the theatre) and getting lost in the dark’.”


Brief Encounter
Church Hill Theatre, 33 Morningside Road, EH10 4DR.
Wed 27 – Sat 29 March 2024.
Wed – Fri: 7.30pm, Sat, mat only: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments (0)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Irene Beaver says:

    What a wonderful preview. When Jac gave me a copy of the script for Brief Encounter for the EPT Play Reading Committee to read, we were all very enthusiastic about doing the play, especially as we had great faith in Jac’s ability to do it justice. I am so looking forward to seeing Brief Encounter.
    Break legs folks.