Review: Still Life and Red Peppers at the Old Red Lion, EC1

Still Life

Still Life - Credit: Archant

The work of Noel Coward continues to provide an enduring and inexhaustible source of fruit for ­production companies and Islington’s Old Red Lion is no stranger in this regard, showcasing a double bill of his plays.

Red Peppers

Red Peppers - Credit: Archant

The first half of the evening is devoted to Still Life, the original 1936 stage play on which the film Brief Encounter was based. For those familiar with David Lean’s classic feature, this will provide an interesting point of reference. One that shows the foundations of what was to come.

Taken in isolation and on its own merit, Still Life is a mixed bag. As a story of an affair between two married individuals who meet on a weekly basis, it is not a premise that obviously engenders sympathy and understanding.

However, the ebb and flow of the story builds towards a crescendo that remains a nerve-shredding suggestion of possibility, discomfort and baked turmoil.

It is undiminished by the passing of time, thanks to its universally recognisable quandary and irritation.

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The cast boil their ­bristling anguish commendably, and Laura Hanna’s ­Dolly Messiter raises the heat even further.

Under comparison with the film, Still Life inevitably suffers, particularly with the loss of Laura Jessop’s inner monologue.

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It feels partial and incomplete, akin to hearing your favourite pop song and then removing the drums.

It’s the same song, yet also not quite the same. Not as satisfying.

Red Peppers, the story of music hall entertainers, and married couple, George and Lily Pepper is an absolute blast.

It tells a funny yet moving tale of a dying industry – that of music hall to the motion picture – and the nature of people.

It is undeniably brilliant, elevating the production to another level and providing an exhilarating climax to an evening of many emotions. More please.

Still Life and Red Peppers run at the Old Red Lion Theatre until August 24.

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