This modern take on Brief Encounter integrates mixed media into the staging, using projected film that integrate the actors, who step into the screen, timed just right with their counterpart in the projected film. In one powerful effect late in the play, a stage-long screen is unfurled to project a passing train.
The use of music -- it's not quite a musical per se but it almost feels like one, with cast members bridging scenes and ideas together with lively songs -- combined with the actors' movement, gives the play a non-stop rhythm, like a Sally Cruikshank or (going way back) Betty Boop cartoon.
It's one of those stories in which the supporting characters, most of them employees of the train station in which the play is set, are more interesting than the protagonists (though all the actors are quite good, and play multiple roles seamlessly). lead actor Milo Twomey, who plays Alec, the doctor, reminded me a bit of a handsomer Rowan Atkinson, and the object of his affection is the lovely, appropriately classical-looking Hannah Yelland as Laura, the ennui-laden housewife. But the supporting cast really keep things humming, including a most amusing Beverly Rudd as the robust, rotund Beryl, who has an affair of her own (and Rudd is also priceless as a couple of older matrons, one with a prissy dog, played by a stuffed animal on a taut leash), and Annette McLaughlin as the station cafe owner Myrtle, who reminded me of British comedienne Carol Cleveland, who was one of the few actual women in supporting roles on Monty Python's Flying Circus.
Even if there are still a few moments where the thin romance threatens to dull the proceedings, those moments are few and far between. ACT and Kneehigh's Brief Encounter is a marvelous staging, a passing train you should jump on.
(Note: The play has now been extended at ACT until October 11.)