Brighton Rock York Theatre Royal Photo Karl Andre
Karl Andre

Brighton Rock

Reviewer's Rating

Creating a stage play from a novel is a hard feat to achieve especially when it is as popular as Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. However, Bryony Lavery’s stage adaptation for York-based producers Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal does not let the novel down; it instils Greene’s sustained intensity and running trope of morality throughout the production.
Set in 1930’s Brighton, this murderous thriller involves seventeen-year-old sociopath Pinkie Brown taking over an amateur gang and his subsequent descent into murder and manipulation of those around him. Jacob James Beswick’s portrayal of the anti-hero is immersive; his quirks and sharp posture adding to the character’s erratic nature. With an essence of Cillian Murphy’s iconic Tommy Shelby from Peaky Blinders, Pinkie’s confused emotions, paranoiac tendencies and bottled up aggression is captured by Beswick throughout the fast-paced performance and is further emphasised by the opposing calm naivety of Rose (Sarah Middleton).

Adding to both the intense and jovial scenes are the two musicians hiding upstage and ‘under the pier’. The electronic composition from Hannah Peel and the ever-present industrial drumbeat produces a constant unnerving atmosphere of gang-fuelled Brighton. The subtlety and accuracy of the sound production is mirrored by the smooth transitions from scene to scene, a popular talking point by audience members during the interval. These thoughtful scene changes create a certain flow to the screenplay that echoes the novel very well and is potentially down to the work of Esther Richardson, Pilot Theatre’s new artistic director. This flow or rhythm is often formed by the prevalent use of the wheeled staircase that aids some of the more difficult transitions of scenes as well as creating a variety of dramatic tableaus at pivotal moments of the plot.

Gloria Onitiri’s loud and tenacious performance of Ida similarly stands out as her character is given an uncommonly central role in this version of the story. Her determination to find out the truth is spurred by her moral code of “what is right and wrong”. Also, Ida’s comedic relationship with love-struck Phil (Chris Jack) is a refreshing inclusion, providing a running joke throughout that has the audience laughing despite the usual tense silence that this adaptation provokes.

Opening with translucent screens and different levelled platforms both on the ground and the heightened pier adds an ethereal layer to the proxemics of the stage which could potentially have been utilised more at other points of the play, especially at the gripping denouement. However, the combined accuracy of sound, design and transitioning creates a tense atmosphere keeping audience members silent and enthralled within the carefully timed and excellently delivered Greene classic.