Brief Encounter at Octagon is 'not just the film on stage'
WHEN you are part of a show which is based on one of the most popular films of all time there has to be a certain sense of responsibility.
But for Robert Jackson and the cast of Brief Encounter which opens tonight night at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre it’s something you use to your advantage.
“There is a responsibility but it also spurs you on,” said Rob who plays several characters in this musical reworking of the Noel Coward classic.
“When you are doing a show which you know the audience are on board with it allows you to relax into the show. We know that what we have got is strong and that lets us as actors go out and enjoy it and allows the audience to enjoy it with us.”
The 1945 film starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard often features in the top 10 lists - a heartbreaking story of two strangers who get a glimpse of what their lives might have been like following a chance meeting at a railway station.
“People who know and love the film will hopefully love this adaptation as well,” said Rob, “but for people who don’t know the film there will be a lot going on.
“Our production is based on the adaptation by Emma Rice which opened in London about 10 years ago and was groundbreaking when it premiered.”
That original West End production introduced a lot of cinematic effects on to the stage, something which is not possible with this new ‘in-the-round’ staging.
“We do involve the audience from the outset though,” said Rob.”It’s a very different take on Brief Encounter. It isn’t just a retelling of the film on stage; there is a lot more to it than that.”
The most obvious difference is the fact that this is a musical featuring a number of Noel Coward’s classic songs woven into the production with the versatile cast becoming the house band along the way.
“At its core is Alex and Laura’s story,” said Rob, “but what happens in this adaptation is that you are exposed to other storylines in much more detail. And although you still have all the drama and passion, there is quite a lot of comedy which comes as a welcome light relief in between some very heartfelt and emotional moments.
“It is a very three-dimensional version of Brief Encounter.”
The play comes to Bolton after playing to packed houses in Scarborough and Keswick’s Theatre By The Lake.
“I’ve always been aware of Brief Encounter but I’d never seen it until I was auditioning,” said Rob. “I knew it was a famous film but it didn’t really mean anything to me. But I’ve been amazed at how many people love it and have such a fondness for it.
“We have had audience members turning up in period costume and no matter where we have been people have really taken to this production which is fantastic.”
The critics too have been won over by this reimagining of a classic story and Rob has been singled out for praise. He has been nominated for the Best Supporting Actor in a Musical category in the UK Theatre Awards.
“It just came completely out of the blue. It’s a real honour but it also feels very unfair as this is such an ensemble shows and everyone in the cast extraordinary,” he said. “I’m not entirely sure how it’s happened but it’s very flattering.”
The winners will be revealed on Sunday which means a hectic weekend for Rob.
“Unfortunately there are no trains down to London so on Saturday after the show at the Octagon we’ll be driving down to London for the ceremony at the Guild Hall and straight after the awards it’ll be back in the car to get back to Bolton for a show on Monday.
“This sounds obvious but I rely so heavily on everyone else in the company, it’s such an intricate production. I play three main characters but on top of that I will pop up as a waiter or a passenger.
“I think there’s only one occasion where I leave the stage and come back on in the same costume.
“Then there’s the music. You’re halfway through a scene and someone will throw a saxophone or trombone at you. You’ll have to play that for a while then run off stage and get changed into another costume.
“It’s non stop. It took us a while to figure it all out but I think we’ve just about got there now.”
Brief Encounter is clearly a special show but the fact that it ends its run in Bolton makes it extra special for Rob who has a real affinity with the Octagon.
“This will be the seventh outing at the Octagon and I now live in Bolton,” he said. “I first worked there in 2017 during the 50th anniversary season and met my now fiancée there; we’ve now got a baby daughter who is 15 months old so the Octagon is very special.
“I was in Summer Holiday which was the last production in old building then did Peter Pan last year which was the first Christmas show in the new theatre. I always relish the opportunity to come back.
“The people of Bolton should be very proud to have a building like the Octagon on their doorstep. It does such remarkable work off stage just as much as on stage. It’s an incredible organisation that does lot of good for the community and long may it continue.”
Brief Encounter, Bolton Octagon, Friday, October 21 to Saturday, November 5. Details from www.octagonbolton.co.uk