Brighton Rock – Review – Hull Truck Theatre
By Karl Hornsey, March 2018
Eighty years since the publication of Graham Greene’s classic novel and more than 70 since the original film, Pilot Theatre have brought Brighton Rock back to life with this fantastic stage production by writer Bryony Lavery.
There is a danger with any adaptation of a famous work that disappointment will ensue, and even more so in the case of Brighton Rock as there’s both book and film to live up to (we’ll forget the risible 2010 remake for the purposes of this review).
Thankfully that danger was completely averted, as this show exceeded all expectations right from the start, bringing a difficult and challenging story to the stage, using great imagination while staying faithful to the original. The first act develops the story shown in the film, and the second delves deeper into aspects covered only in the book, of how religion and upbringing have influenced the characters from their early years onward.
Brighton Rock isn’t a nice story. It’s not about nice people doing nice things. It’s dark, brooding, unforgiving and offers a stark reminder of the challenges of growing up, of finding your place in the world and knowing which paths to take.
While the book and film focus largely on the relationship between gangster Pinkie Brown and waitress Rose, the genius of Lavery’s adaptation is to use the character of Ida to move the story along, and to provide the one piece of hope and goodness in an otherwise seedy and unpleasant tale. Ida’s insistence on trying to protect Rose by delving into the gang’s activities, while the police stand idly by, delivers the production’s sense of justice, while also supplying a welcome touch of levity and good humour.
“Maintaining the menace”
The intimate surroundings of Hull Truck provide an ideal setting for keeping the intensity of the story at all times and the clever use of the ensemble cast to hide out in the shadows is a perfect way of maintaining the menace of the situation.
This truly is a work that makes the best of every resource available. The nine-strong cast are constantly used to choreograph the action, moving the set around, turning Brighton Pier into Pinkie’s flat, or changing a dingy bar into a five-star hotel. I loved the idea of having drummer James Field and singer Laura Groves on stage at all times, there in the background, bringing Hannah Peel’s score to life, energising the performances in front of them.
“Finds the perfect balance”
As for the cast, and while it’s hard to single out any one of the actors for special attention, I do feel the adaptation lives or dies with Ida, played here by Gloria Onitiri, who finds the perfect balance throughout. It would have been too easy to play her as a comical caricature or as an irritating busybody, but Onitiri steals every scene she is in; her thoughts and actions there in the background as the audience’s only salvation.
Jacob James Beswick as Pinkie manages to bring some understanding as to his generally despicable character, which is no mean feat, and Sarah Middleton’s Rose elicits the audience’s sympathy without going overboard into being a completely hopeless young girl.
This was the first time I had seen a Pilot Theatre production and, on this evidence, I certainly hope it won’t be the last.
images: York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre