Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal’s production of Brighton Rock has caused a bit of a buzz around York of late, with many fans of the novel keen to see how Bryony Lavery’s new adaptation would tackle the iconic text.
The answer comes fast as we’re plunged into the murky waters of the Brighton shore. Lavery has concentrated much of her attention on the contrasting of characters. We have Ida, played wonderfully by Gloria Onitiri as the moral backbone - tenacious and worldly and worlds apart from the easily influenced Rose - played by Sarah Middleton - who does a fantastic job of capturing the young girl’s naiveté. And then there’s Pinkie, the corrupt teen, caught in the mire, already lost and willing to bring down any in his path. Jacob James Beswick does a fantastic job of capturing Pinkie’s inner turmoil, whilst giving us hard-to-watch glimpses of the vicious evil that seems so desperate to escape him.
The three together are allowed to set-up the ongoing battle of morality, and the set-up works well. However, as the play progresses, it falls short of exploring the theological and moral message of Graham Greene’s novel. It’s as if we’ve been allowed to taste it, but forbidden from biting into the stick of rock dangled in-front of us.
Our lead actors are supported by a highly skilled, multi-rolling ensemble. The decision to have them as gang members, lurking on stage throughout as ill-meaning shadows, creates a thread of uneasiness that serves to unsettle and promise that threat is never far away.
The staging of this play is quite frankly, awesome. A two-tier set modelled on Brighton Pier, and pin-sharp scene changes that are almost as tense as the on-stage action drag the audience into the coastal underworld. This, combined with Hannah Peel’s soundtrack - performed live on stage throughout - give the whole production an almost cinematic feel. It’s a perfect medley of set and sound that alone makes this production of Brighton Rock worth seeing. Add some exceptional choreography to the mix (look out for the staircase!) and you’ve got yourself some highly immersive theatre.
My only wish would have been that we could’ve delved deeper. At times it felt as though too much had been glossed over, which risks leaving the audience underwhelmed as the lights come up. But that is always going to be the case with an ambitious adaptation such as this, and it was absolutely a risk worth taking.
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