Following its eagerly anticipated tour across the U.K, Bryony Lavery’s newly crafted adaptation of Graham Greene’s iconic ‘Brighton Rock’ came to the very heart of it’s murderous setting at Brighton’s very own Theatre Royale last night. With the director Esther Richardson’s intention to translate the text on stage for younger audiences, I was eager to see how this was going to be achieved considering the intricate prose and dialogue that constructs the novel. Ultimately, Richardson’s direction thoroughly paid off in the thrilling two-hour adaptation of corruption and criminality that graced the stage that evening.
For me, the use of physical theatre to reflect the novel’s constant unrelenting atmosphere was a brilliant way to make it visually dynamic. Impressively executed for an ensemble of six, the physical nature and well-choreographed scenes of violence (especially the death scenes) particularly stood out for me. With a series of understated movements, the scenes proved there was no need for masses of fake blood or overdramatic screams to terrify the audience of the dark realities that face these characters. The simplicity of the set was also an artistic decision that really paid off. The cast manoeuvred in and out of the decaying timber of a pier, perhaps a reference to the remains of the West Pier. The two levels of above and below the pier were a compelling way in signifying levels of power, with the violent pressures of toxic masculinity making Pinkie flit between the two throughout.
In terms of characterisation, the two performances that stood out for me were that of Jacob James Beswick’s ‘Pinkie’ and Sarah Middleton’s ‘Rose’. Beswick’s tormented and twisted performance of the seventeen-year old mob leader Pinkie was remarkably compelling, and at some points, surprisingly moving. Even at the proud stance he always tried to sustain, he successfully portrayed the image of a teenager desperately trying to be older than he actually is. This applies to the childish naivety of Middleton’s Rose, completely blinded by romantic ideas of love and marriage, and willingly trapped into agreeing to every one of Pinkie’s evil demands. Through their ongoing strife not to be, the gripping performances render their characters as children very much swept up in an adult’s world.
The adaptation gave a lot more attention to the fearless and strong-willed working-class character of Ida, who Richardson claims has been ‘overlooked by both previous adaptations and literary criticism’. Played by Gloria Ontiri, I really liked the new idea of her role as this voice of morality throughout the play, a sort of omnipresent force as she interweaves in and out of the narrative. Ontiri perfectly captured Ida Arnold’s essence of sensuality and fearlessness through her pursuit of justice; her undeniable stage presence demanding the audience’s attention at all times. There were undoubtedly a few questionable artistic decisions involving her character that slightly let down the production. The choice of having Ida singing onstage throughout in a cockney ‘Sweeney Todd, The Musical’-esque way was very hit or miss and slightly jarring amid the understated nature of the play. I think the songs would have perhaps worked more effectively spoken like poetry or interior monologues – they seemed out of place in Greene’s world of sin and debauchery. Nevertheless, the idea of making it more visually immersive and enticing for younger audiences is highly commendable.
Graham Greene’s iconic novel, though written in 1938, covers issues still extremely relevant in today’s society regarding attitudes towards young people. Lavery’s adaptation and Richardson’s direction effectively use this in translating the very heart of Greene’s tragic thriller for a modern-day audience onstage. With a few more tweaks to ensure that the pace of some scenes doesn’t drop, a sharpening of some exchanges between characters and a toning down of overly-theatrical elements, this play could be even more impressive.
Image Credit: Karl Andre Photography