IT’S widely regarded as one of THE classic British movies of all time and has also had considerable success on stage.

But a new version of Brief Encounter which is currently delighting festive audiences at Manchester’s Royal Exchange is very much “it’s own, beautiful, little thing” according to one of the stars of the show.

Christina Modestou, who has previously appeared in Six and Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, plays Myrtle in this musical version of Brief Encounter directed by the Royal Exchange’s former artistic director Sarah Frankcom.

The story of a couple who meet by chance and get a glimpse of how their lives could have been so very different features the songs of Noel Coward, who also wrote the original screenplay which in turn was based on his one-act play Still Life.

“It is very different from the David Lean film which a lot of people will know,” said Christina. “Sarah and musical director Matthew Malone have taken it to a new level. It is so beautifully a play and so beautifully a musical. It sort of lives in both realms and then doesn’t at the same time.”

This stage version also brings secondary characters in the film to life.

Christina plays Myrtle who has her own relationship issues to deal with.

“In some ways Myrtle does offer a little comic relief,” said Christina. “But we also get to learn a lot more about her. In the film a lot of the action involving her is off stage. By having the music it does reveal her vulnerability, and shows the side of her that’s fragile and how she laughs at barrier she puts on to hide that.

“There are a lot of layers to her which I’ve been allowed to discover. I’ve found so much fun in her and sadness all at once. She’s a joy to play and it’s lovely to hear when people get her.”

At the heart of Brief Encounter is an inherent sadness as central characters Laura and Alex fleetingly find discover forbidden love and Christina believes that it fits in perfectly with the festive season.

“Look at Wonderful Life, one of the great Christmas movies,” she said. “How sad is that in parts? I also think there’s a naughtiness in this production along with warmth and kindness and real sadness which I think is Christmas in a nutshell.”

Although written almost 80 years ago, Brief Encounter is a surprisingly modern story, says Christina.Lancashire Telegraph: Christina Modestou as Myrtle in Brief Encounter (Picture: Johan Persson)

“Noel Coward’s writing is so true and so human,” she said. “You can sense that he really understood people and you can find cleverness in the simplest things. Then using Noel Coward’s music just lifts the whole thing off the page even more.

“One of the interesting things is that all the female characters in this play are empowered which is both rare and wonderful.”

This is the first time Christina has performed at the Royal Exchange.

“On previous tours I’ve done, I’ve always been at The Lowry so I’d walked past but never been inside the Royal Exchange before,” she said.

“The first time I walked in to the massive hall and saw the module inside I said ‘I wonder where the theatre is’.

“It’s not what you expect but it’s just the most wonderful building with the most wonderful people. It’s a joy to spend Christmas here.

Lancashire Telegraph: Brief Encounter at the Royal Exchange (Picture: Johan Persson)

“As a performer, that space envelopes you. You are super vulnerable, you are are totally exposed and can’t get away with anything. Along with the audience you are there all in it together and there is so much joy in that.”

Brief Encounter is the ultimate example of performing ‘in the round’ and Christina is revelling in it.

“There are eyes on you everywhere,” she said. “No matter where you are, you have to tell story with your whole self. Technically that’s a challenge and that’s where the real craft comes in - being able to marry the technical things you know and make them look natural every day.”

For the run, Christina is staying in Manchester.

“Luckily my good friend, the comedian Brennan Reece, is allowing me to stay with him,” she said. “I’m currently living in Glasgow so I got to go home for Christmas Day and spend time with the family.

Lancashire Telegraph: Richard Glaves (Fred) and Christina Modestou (Myrtle) in Brief Encounter
        (Picture: Johan Persson)

“But actually I’m so lucky with this show to be on a relatively normal schedule. I have friends in pantos who are doing two or three shows a day.

“Much as I love panto - it’s one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done - it’s really lovely to be involved in this show. It feels classy, warm and wonderful.”

When Brief Encounter comes to the end of the run, what next then for Christina?

“I love working on new shows and I’ve been talking about lots of new things this year which might come to fruition, so let’s see,” she said. “I’m going into the New Year with an open mind.

“When been away for a while I quite like settling in for a while and spending some time with my partner and my dog.”

But for a couple more weeks at least Brief Encounter will be getting her full attention.

“There’s a moment in the show when Baker who plays Alec is singing a song and the rest of us just get to sit there and listen to him,” she said. “Every time I just take a quick look around the space and just think ‘this is so cool’.”

Brief Encounter is at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester until Saturday, January 13, Details from