“Brief Encounter” uses music, movement and cinematic effects to re-imagine David Lean’s 1945 film — based on a Noel Coward play — for the stage. First staged in Cornwall, England, in 2008 by Kneehigh’s artistic director, Emma Rice, the show brings to 11 the number of productions that Shakespeare Theatre has booked under its “special presentations” banner. These are shows originating in London, New York, Paris and elsewhere that are marketed to the public separately from the company’s main stage subscription series, which consists mostly of classical works produced by the theater itself.
The other special presentations being offered this season are “Mies Julie,” an erotically charged South African version of August Strindberg’s “Miss Julie” that starts Nov. 9, and “Man in a Case,” an avant-garde adaptation of a pair of Chekhov short stories that arrives Dec. 5 and stars Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Shakespeare Theatre Company began its role as important importer of international work for the city in 2009, with a successful run of Jean Racine’s “Phedre,” starring Helen Mirren and Dominic Cooper, from London’s National Theatre. The programming that has followed has included some of the most exciting theater of the past several seasons. Among the highlights: the National Theatre of Scotland’s Iraq war play, “Black Watch”; John Hurt in Gate Theatre of Dublin’s “Krapp’s Last Tape”; the marathon playlets of “The Great Game: Afghanistan” from London’s Tricycle Theatre; “Petrushka,” from American puppeteer Basil Twist; and another entry from the Scottish national theater, “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,” a “site-specific” work that was performed in a Georgetown pub.
Chris Jennings, the Shakespeare Theatre managing director, said the work of Kneehigh Theatre has been in artistic director Michael Kahn’s sights for some time. “We’ve been talking to them for years about bringing ‘Brief Encounter’ to Washington, and they’ve been wanting to come,” Jennings said. The opportunity arose as part of an international tour that is taking the Kneehigh production to Australia, Beverly Hills, Calif., and Washington.
The productions Shakespeare Theatre have brought in have, in general, met or exceeded the company’s sales expectations, Jennings said, although Kahn noted that the return visits of two shows that did well in their initial stands — “Black Watch” and the musical “Fela!” — had disappointing results.
Nonetheless, company officials say the rate of success argues for supplying more of what Kahn describes as “the kind of theatrical works Washington doesn’t normally see.”