ALL eyes might be on the forthcoming Edinburgh festivals, but there are still a couple of months in which to catch Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s production of Noël Coward’s play Brief Encounter. Emma Rice’s innovative 2007 adaptation of the famous drama plays in repertory at the Theatre in the Hills until September 29.

Rice’s version combines Coward’s 1936 stage play (which was ­originally titled Still Life) with David Lean’s 1945 film (for which Coward was the ­principal ­screenplay writer). It also adds a ­sprinkling of musical elements.

I tend, I confess, to be out on ­something of a critical limb where ­Coward is ­concerned. I don’t, for a moment, doubt his wit or his verbal dexterity, but I ­often feel (as the great English theatre critic Kenneth Tynan said of the young ­Harold Pinter) that Coward manages to be ­“frivolous, even when he is being ­serious”.

Although an obvious forebear of ­Coward, the aristocratic Oscar Wilde, who ­famously turned to socialism and Irish republicanism, satirised the ­English upper classes with barely disguised ­contempt. By contrast, I have always thought the middle-class Coward was seeking to ingratiate himself with “high society” with plays like Blithe Spirit and, even, the socially and morally liberal Private Lives.

However, Elizabeth Newman’s staging of Brief Encounter in Pitlochry, while light and humorous, puts an excellent emphasis on the play’s underlying social critique. Consequently, this nicely-paced telling of the story of the intense, ­mutual attraction between Laura Jesson (an ­archetypal, 1930s, middle-class, ­English “housewife”) and Alec Harvey (a GP with whom she has a chance encounter at a railway station) packs a surprisingly strong emotional punch.

Newman’s production is lubricated by live music and song. Well-known ­numbers from Coward’s musical revues, such as Mad About The Boy and A Room With A View, are sewn expertly into the fabric of Rice’s adaptation.

It also enjoys clever design by Jen McGinley, with parts of the set sliding past each other, like trains at a station.

The always brilliant Kirsty Stuart ­excels as the desperately torn Laura, who is caught between her loyalty to her ­stable-but-drab marriage (to her equally dependable but ­unexciting ­husband, Fred) and her almost ­uncontrollable attraction to Alec. ­Stuart plays her character with a ­carefully ­constructed, starchy “respectability” that rings every bit as true as the anguished desire that bursts through it.

Matthew Trevannion does the ­matinee idol thing (and does it well) as Alec, while Rachael McAllister and Keith ­Macpherson (as railway café owner ­Myrtle and ticket collector Albert) ­ offer a hearty side order of good old-fashioned, end-of-the-pier British slap-and-tickle. Kristin Weichen Wong and Joseph ­Tweedale are similarly ­uncomplicated as young lovers Beryl and Stanley.

Macpherson is the very picture of the British colonial stiff-upper-lip as Fred, a man who, in his heart of hearts, knows he should free Laura from their life of ­emotional drudgery.

It is in Laura and Alec’s short-lived, quiet rebellion against deadening social strictures that this production expresses the intrinsic power of Coward’s drama.

Various dates until September 29: