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Emma Rice says her own love life inspired stage version of Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter director Emma Rice says the “passion” of her own love life is at the heart of the hit West End show

Rice adapted the musical from the 1945 film, which was itself based on a  Noël Coward play, and said its story of a repressed love affair in pre-war England was still relevant. 

She said: “I’ve had three major relationships in my life and this show is about human relationships, so I have loved passionately and let go passionately. That’s the big personal impact of the show on me and my big personal truth inside the show. It is about love.”

The musical is at the Empire Cinema in Haymarket, where it made its West End debut a decade ago. It stars Isabel Pollen as Laura, a housewife, and Jim Sturgeon as Alec, the doctor she meets at a railway station in 1938, and mixes live music with film footage and on-stage action. 

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Rice, who left her job as artistic director at Shakespeare’s Globe in a row over her use of electronic music and lighting,  said she had done “a lot of filleting” to cut 20 minutes off the running time. She said: “Why would you ask someone to part with money, come away from their home and sit down unless they can have a good time, an entertaining time, and a time in which they’ll feel changed or opened up? 

“Laughter does that, music does that and dance does that and drama does that so I want to use everything.” 

Brief Encounter – in pictures

The musical keeps the very proper accents and stiff-upper-lip language from David Lean’s film, which starred Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. Rice, 50, said the decision had helped make it an international hit with tours in the US and Australia.

She said: “They love it, it’s sort of easier in some ways I think and there is a sort of romance about being British and they don’t find the accent funny because they find all our accents funny. I really wanted to keep the truth of 1938 and war on its way and you have to have some repression for it to work.

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“I wanted to really honour the 1938 genesis of this piece and I think the accents help with that because it helps us all latch on and go back in time.

“They’re not modern people, you feel the time and it’s the time of my own grandparents and I feel my own history there in my fingertips when I listen to that language.”

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