We've all seen the film. Or if we haven't, we certainly feel as if we have. It’s one of the greatest British love stories of the century; stiff and reserved GP Trevor Howard bumps into stiff and plummy suburban wife Celia Johnson in a pre-war station refreshment room. They're both married, but in a show-no-emotion way. They fall in love, meet in lunchtime restaurants and tea-time station buffets, attempt a disastrous afternoon quickie at a friend's flat, and decide it would All Be for the Best if the affair was nipped in the bud. The doc goes off to Johannesburg while the wife returns to the suburbs.
So here comes Middle Ground Theatre Company with Andrew Taylor’s stage adaptation of the David Lean film. The script had a brief outing in the West End in 2000 receiving mixed reviews - and you can see why: there are some irritating and unnecessary voiceovers and the Rachmaninov-style music is over-frequent, over-insistent and often over-loud.
On the plus side, Middle Ground start well with an atmospherically gloomy set based on the refreshment room but with credible spaces for other locations. Thankfully there's no giant station clock. But there is billowing steam every time a train is heard, so much that it floods both the stage and the attic-style set for the wife's lovely home.
The most prominent visual elements are a couple of hanging signboards. One says "Kardomah" and lights up when the two protagonists are lunching at the (you guessed it) Kardomah restaurant. The other is a huge and always-visible cinema sign reading "Flames of Passion". And yes, it's another ironic comment.
But it's all a bit unnecessary in a dialogue where it is not so much the words themselves as what's not said. Actually, Richard Walsh (remember him as Sicknote in London's Burning) is rather good at loading his dialogue with hidden depths; he takes the Trevor Howard role with considerable credit.
The movie had two of the most credible performances of the age. Whether or not you liked those people, you could believe in them and their illicit love affair and for that you need two credible lovers. Karen Drury (Susanna Farnham from Brookside) is too stagey by half as Laura, the respectable housewife. When she gets the chance to hurl herself under the boat train, you know that she'll back soon because she couldn't pass up another chance to milk her misery.
There are also some characters from the lower middle classes who presumably show how real life works. April Walker does well as the wittering refreshment-room manageress. And a newcomer called Amanda Reed steals the show as Dolly, the loquacious acquaintance who gossips to Laura through the last emotion-filled farewell.
Middle Ground has tried hard to recreate the spirit of the age, but ultimately seems a mite pointless. This production adds nothing to the movie and it fails in the crucial bringing-a-lump-to-the-throat test.