steam railway dorset

We will be putting reports of our various events on this page as they take place during 2014.

Still Life packs ‘em in at Shillingtone

Churchill Productions’ staging of Noël Coward’s “Still Life” was a sell-out success when the company performed the play to packed audiences at Shillingstone in May. The piece, upon which David Lean’s iconic 1945 movie, “Brief Encounter” was based, was staged in the station’s Mk1 buffet coach which was converted into a 44 seat theatre for the week-long session of eight performances. 

The story centres around the chance meeting of two passengers in the buffet of the fictional Milford Junction station. Though each is respectably married with families of their own, they are irresistibly drawn to one another after the male lead Dr. Stanley, played by Andy Oldfield, removes a piece of smoke dust from the eye of traveller Laura Jesson, played by Jan Wyld. They both have legitimate reasons to be at the station at the same time each week and their inevitable meetings become the source of the classic lovers’ dilemma; whether to follow their hearts and leave their respective partners or do the right thing and suffer the pain of calling off the whole affair. The way in which they deal with the situation typifies the social and moral climate of the pre-war era in which it is set. 

Against this theme of angst, a degree of light relief provided by the personal goings-on of the buffet manageress Myrtle Bagot (Sammy Upton), her assistant Beryl Waters (Sue Olds) and assorted railway staff and passengers. 

By sheer coincidence, the company discovered that the last surviving cast member of the “Brief Encounter” film, Margaret Barton who played the young Beryl Waters in the film, lives not far away in Wimborne. Arrangements were made to bring her along to the station to meet the Still Life cast and watch the play. A BBC film crew and presenter, David Allard, accompanied her and a delightfully touching piece was broadcast a few days later on the regional magazine programme, South Today. You can watch this now by clicking on the video below. 

This production was the first of its kind at Shillingstone and, as far as we know, is probably unique as an entertainment at a preserved railway. The buffet coach is certainly proving its worth as a venue and it has already been used for a variety of social events since it was completed towards the end of 2013.

Left : BBC cameraman Trevor records the scene where Laura Jesson asks for a glass of water to bathe her eye to try and remove the smoke dust. With her in front of the counter is Margaret Barton, the last surviving cast member of the original “Brief Encounter” film. Right : Parting is such sweet sorrow – Dr Stanley prepares to let the train take Laura out of his life.