Writer: Graham Greene
Adaptor: Bryony Lavery
Director: Esther Richardson
Reviewer: Cathy Swaby
Playwright Bryony Lavery’s adaptation of Graham Greene’s 1938 novel Brighton Rock is a haunting, stylish masterpiece, which leads the audience on a journey of life and death, good versus evil, and the angst of youth.
Lavery, who’s most well-known play Frozen is re-running in London theatres, has cleverly brought Greene’s dark and slightly antiquated tale of Brighton gangland to eerie life, in the city’s authentic Theatre Royal. The actors swirl, climb and hide amongst the edges and shadows of Sara Perk’s ingenious set design of the West Pier Skeleton. As a Brighton crowd, this commonplace silhouetted metallic frame is a foolproof choice for this seaside seediness, and the astute lighting throughout adapts to each scene, with the shiny stage floor reflecting the pier as if on the sea, creating depth and plunging mystery.
The juxtaposition of the dilapidated iconic pier, a nod to the past of Brighton, and Greene’s story are consummately paired. The main character, Pinkie, previously reincarnated in the 1947 film, and then more recently in the 2010 1960s-based adaptation, swaggers onto the stage as the cocky 17-year-old Brighton mob member, but as the story unfolds he reveals the childlike qualities he truly possesses, stumbling through a chaotic world of sin and broken dreams. Jacob James Beswick, who plays Pinkie, is gaunt and laddish, which is a perfect portrayal of this wayward gangster, and as we witness his spiralling downfall, he teeters on the edge of the pier walkway, the edge of life, and we see how Greene’s perhaps lapsed Catholic background has influenced this sinful and morally confused young character.
Pinkie and his ‘Polany’ Rose, played by Sarah Middleton, a naïve waitress he meets, are a match made in pandemonium as we see Pinkie’s vitriolic anger towards women, towards the world, culminate in the pairing’s ultimate self-destruction. Their eventual marriage shows the two characters in a furtive whirlwind, much like their romance, and the portrayal of their wedding night is a beautiful and subtle tussling to percussion on a moving ladder.
It is Ida, however, a character previously less spotlit in older adaptations, who is the centre stage as the free-spirited, fierce talking atheist trying to find justice for a murder. Played by the beautiful and leopard printed Gloria Onitiri, Ida opens the audience to the question of morals and penance, after we witness the fatal attack on Fred Hale. Ida is the heroine, mothering the deluded Rose, and this is despite her non-Catholic beliefs, which would have originally been a challenging digression for the Catholic-raised Greene. Lavery has brought Ida to the forefront, watching, with the audience, the collapse of Pinkie’s mini-empire. Although containing violent themes the play portrays more challenging scenes in a flowing, almost Ballerina like manner and is subtly comical.
The play is perfectly executed musically, with Hannah Peel and her band creepily hiding under the pier, Clockwork Orange faces slightly lit, as the compositions heighten the atmosphere of each setting. They blend in with Director Esther Richardson’s “Dark Angels” lurking in the dark, waiting and watching for death. The sounds of carousel circus tunes and splashing waves assimilate a background of the place most of this audience inhabits, sitting outside inside, a pebbles throw away from the real-life seaside town. And as those who have sat through the show sombrely leave the theatre, heads down, it is not through disappointment but through having witnessed a truly magnificent homage to Brighton, and to Greene himself.
Runs until Saturday 10th March | Image: Karl Andre