Still Life

Still Life Poster

NODA Review by Joyce Handbury

What a delightful setting greeted the audience as they entered the centre. The whole place had been transformed to represent a tearoom of the 1930’s - the era of the play. Part of the room had tables covered with lovely cloths and accompanying bone china crockery etc. courtesy of Reminiscence Vintage whilst the rest was the refreshment room of Milford Junction Station complete with serving bar for the setting of the play. To add to the whole ambience we were served with a delicious cream tea by Reminiscence Vintage before the play actually started and during the interval we had more tea and cakes! The one-act play written by Noel Coward was later extended by him into the script for the film Brief Encounter released in 1945. The play centres round the characters of Laura Jesson and Alec Harvey who meet by accident in the refreshment room whilst both waiting for their respective trains. Laura has something in her eye and Alec, who is a doctor, removes it for her and thus begins the intense romance, which takes place over a year, of these two married middle class people. Victoria Murphy as Laura and Mik Horvath as Alec were both excellent. The chemistry between them was tangible and they very effectively portrayed the emotional progression from an innocent first encounter into one that blossomed into deep love along with the shame, guilt and regret they both felt. There are two other romances taking second stage as it were. The first is between station worker Albert Godby played by Michael Fletcher and the owner of the tearooms, Myrtle Bagot, played by Jane Wilton. The mood was definitely lightened by their uncomplicated romance and both were totally convincing in bringing a touch of humour and genuine warmth to the proceedings, loved their little song and dance around the tables. A more subdued and first time romance was delightfully portrayed by Eva Smith as tearoom assistant Beryl Waters and Joe Riley as Stanley. The final parting of Laura and Alec was very poignant but somewhat thwarted by the arrival of Dolly Messiter, a friend of Laura, who was completely oblivious to what was happening continuing to chatter and ramble on, almost to herself. Judy Richter was suitably impressive in this cameo role. Good support in other minor roles came from Roger Whiting, Andrew Barlow, Jeremy Crane, Sophie Mander and customers Pauline Revill and Isobelle Grace Keith. This was an absolutely inspirational idea to perform this particular play in this innovative way and it really made my ‘brief encounter’ on a Sunday afternoon a truly wonderful experience. Congraulations to everyone involved.

Artsbeat Review

Even if you have never seen the film Brief Encounter you will not have been able to escape clips of the more famous scenes over the years.

Noel Coward’s story of the chance meeting between a housewife and doctor in railway tearooms which blossoms into an emotional affair is familiar to millions.

The swirl of the steam, the sound of the trains as they hurtle through Milford, the tortured face of Laura as she says goodbye…

But before we had all that there was a short play called Still Life, which Coward later extended into the screenplay.

Most people have probably never seen the play as his full length works such as Private Lives are much more popular with drama groups.

So it was with some intrigue that I accepted the invitation from Belper Players to see the one-act play especially as there was promise of a cream tea and cakes in what I was told was a recreation of the 1930s café where the action takes place.

The audience was going to be part of the action – bystanders at their own café tables.

It was a brilliant idea and with the help of Reminiscence Vintage Belper’s Community Hall was indeed transformed into a scene from the era.

The audience was clearly charmed by the beautiful bone china and pretty linen clad tables. Such sophistication was rare in most of our lives it seems and the whole experience was a joy.

But it was the drama that unfolded around us which was the icing on the cake. As usual the Belper Players didn’t disappoint and the central pairing of Mik Horvath as Alec and Victoria Murphy as Laura worked well. The chemistry between them was obvious and we felt their passion, shame and regret as the doomed relationship progressed.

However it was the secondary relationships between station worker Albert Godby, played by Michael Fletcher and the tearooms owner Myrtle Bagot, played by Jane Wilton that stole the show. What a genuine delight the pair were as they waltzed among the tables.

A third romance was bubbling under the surface between tearooms assistant Beryl Waters, played by Eva Smith and Stanley played by Joe Riley. I am sure these two young actors will be future stars of productions by the Players.

Making a brief but entertaining appearance at the end of the play was Judy Richter as Dolly Messiter the talkative acquaintance of Laura.

The rest of the cast was Roger Whiting, Andrew Barlow, Jeremy Crane, Sophie Mander, Pauline Revill and Isobelle Grace Keith.

The director was Sara Noble-Nesbitt; the production co-ordinator Nick Mothershaw, costumes, Ann Taylor; sound and lighting, Richard Platt and Jamie Vella; set construction, Nick and Sara Mothershaw and Sara Noble-Nesbitt and publicity, Alyson Koe and Sue Wood.

It would be a shame if their production was never seen again. Maybe the cast and Reminiscence Vintage could team up again to take it on a tour of the county’s larger tearooms?