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Magical Realism

How the classic film Brief Encounter became a wonder onstage.

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Last year, an enchanting production settled briefly at Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse. It was based on the 1945 Noël Coward and David Lean film Brief Encounter, about a young doctor, Alec, and a housewife, Laura, who meet in a train station. Both are married but yearn for something the other provides. The theatrical version, which originated at Britain’s Kneehigh Theatre, expanded on the black-and-white film through colorful characters, song and dance, and endless bits of whimsy, without ever sacrificing Coward’s deeply romantic and tragic vision. And now it’s back, this time on Broadway. The imaginative forces behind the play—director Emma Rice, an actress and choreographer, and Neil Murray, a painter turned scene-and-costume designer—agreed to talk about the show’s evolution, which began in a cluster of seaside barns in Cornwall, England, where Murray created these early sketches “as a means of finding a poetic landscape to think and live in and grow from.”


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