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Brief Encounter
Jos Slovick

Kneehigh (in conjunction with the Old Vic) are about to revive their acclaimed production of Emma Rice's Brief Encounter, starting with a short tour followed by a six-month West End run. Jos Slovick, playing Stanley, talks bunking off, jazz, and returning to the West End.

How have you enjoyed rehearsals?

It's brilliant, it's really fantastic! I've not worked with Kneehigh before - I've wanted to for a long time.

I saw the show when it was first on ten years ago; I grew up in London, and me and my friend used to bunk off school to go and watch shows in town, and that was one of them. I would've been 17 or 18 at the time? And it was the first time I'd ever seen an actor-muso, and a love story that didn't end happily. It was sort of, looking back, a more realistic version of a love story than what you're used to when you're growing up!

I saw it, I loved it - it inspired me to go and buy a ukulele, and I learnt one of the songs in the show. Ten years later I'm playing that part, singing that song.

So it's all come full circle?

Yes, exactly, a nice circular story. So when I had the audition it was one of those where you think, "Christ I've got to get this, I need to be in this!".

Are you enjoying working with Emma Rice?

She's fantastic. She has great ideas, she lets you give ideas and offer stuff, and then if she likes it she lets you go with it - or if she doesn't, she maybe hands you back in a bit. She's very free, I'd say.

Is it a slightly different experience to working with some other directors?

Yes! Obviously they've done the show before so they've got the formula, they know what works. There is a bit of "Stand here for these lines", but they've found a very good balance of letting us explore it and put out own spin on it, as well as using the formula that they've had before that they know works.

Though it's based more on Noël Coward's play Still Life than Brief Encounter, the film is quite iconic - do you feel any pressure taking it on?

No, not really. I think it's a great show from watching it and from the inside. I think people will love it. I mean, there are parts of it that are very similar to the film; I think we do the film justice, and Still Life as well. I trust the show - I don't feel pressure at all, I think people are really going to like it.

The London venue is a cinema rather than a theatre, so that must be an interesting prospect?

Obviously it's based on a classic film, so what better place than in a cinema? And I think it makes it a far more visceral experience as well. You go to the cinema, it's very different to going to the theatre.

Traditionally, going to the theatre's a lot more prim and proper, where people used to dress up for the occasion, whereas the cinema... You can go there and throw popcorn all day! And wear whatever you like. I think this'll be a nice blend of the two and people will feel really engaged with the piece more. I hope!

I'm excited to invite my friends from school. I don't think a lot of people would've been to the cinema to see a play. People, when I tell them, they think it sounds fantastic! So I think it's a stroke of genius. I don't know how they managed to pull that off.

How important is it that you get the chance to play at a couple of other places (Birmingham and Salford) before the London run?

Obviously it's good to have a run at it, but I want it to be just as good everywhere, to show the people of Birmingham and Manchester just how good the show is. I'm not really looking at it as a warm-up for the West End - I want it to be just as good as it is in town.

Are you looking forward to returning to the West End?

It's obviously nice to be in London; I live in London, my family and friends are in London... As a freelance actor some of the time you get dragged away from those people, so it's nice to be close to them and not living out of a suitcase. That can be really tiresome when you're on tour, or working away from home for a long period. It's nice to be at home. It's been a few years since I've had a stint in town.

What's been the most challenging moment so far?

I play a lot of double bass in the show, which I didn't know beforehand. I play electric bass but I've not really played double bass before - I'm not used to having no frets! So I'd say that has been the most challenging - and I hope my tuning on the bass is up to scratch...

As a keen musician [playing with the Phoenix Collective, formed from the Once cast, amongst others], I imagine you're happy to be able to use those skills in an acting job?

I'm happy to rise to the challenge. Before I started Once I didn't play a mandolin or banjo; I thought, "I'm here for a year, I'm going to make the most of this and add these to my CV". So I'm doing the same with the double bass.

Is anything standing out as your favourite part of the show?

The pre-show's going to be fun! I don't know whether this is a spoiler or not... As the audience come in we're all dressed as ushers and play jazz standards. I'm going to enjoy that - we had a similar thing in Once.

I'm also enjoying working with Beverly Rudd, who I play opposite - my love interest. The young lovers have their puppy love and they're both kind of foolish in their own way. I've really enjoyed working with Bev.

Can you give us a bit of a flavour of the show?

Full of romance and jazz. The two central characters - they're married and they have this brief affair, and they're surrounded by other people who are coupling up and are able to be together, whereas through circumstance the two who are most deep in love aren't able to.

Around that it's peppered with humour and jazz songs, and well-crafted movement and sound effects used as metaphors to symbolise that.

Brief Encounter is at Birmingham Rep 2-17 February, The Lowry 20-24 February, and Empire Cinema Haymarket 2 March-2 September

Picture credit: Faye Thomas

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