Touring – reviewed at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
Adapted by Bryony Lavery and directed by Esther Richardson, Brighton Rock is a hybrid of dark, sinister eye-opening gangland activity and overt, harrowing vulnerability. Punctuated with dramatic, rousing live incidental music from on-stage musicians, Hannah Peel (who also composed the music), James Field and Laura Groves.
Set in and around Brighton with the pier featuring as the focal point, the original story was written by Graham Greene in 1938. The text is fuelled by slang which is used with regularity by the mob at the hub of the piece. This takes some adjusting to. However, it only took a few uses of terms such as ‘Polony’ and ‘Milky’ to become accustomed to the patter.
Pinkie, played by Jacob James Beswick, summarises the key points of the story from the beginning. All of the early revelations involve death, thus setting the tone of the production.
Pinkie is heading up one of the local mobs since the recent demise of the previous leader and is out for revenge for his fallen leader – ‘Fred’ is going to pay for the ‘mistake’. It also becomes clear that Fred is not who he seems, although whoever he is, he’s sure of one thing – he’s going to be the victim of intended murder.
Meanwhile, Ida (Gloria Onitiri) is enjoying a break by the sea, but her fleeting involvement with Fred leads her to turn detective. As the story takes the predicted murderous twist, we follow the antics of young Pinkie and his gang as the teenage ‘thug’ races against time and pressure to exonerate himself, simultaneously damaging the lives of everybody who has the misfortune of coming into contact with him.
Along the way we meet Spicer (Angela Bain) who is ready to retire from a life of crime, Prewitt (Shamira Turner), a lawyer whom Pinkie comes to rely heavily upon and innocent, naive 16-year-old Rose (Sarah Middleton) who falls head over heels in love with Pinkie, to her detriment.
As an ensemble, the cast are a strong, tight unit, their smooth movement across the stage is the epitome of symmetry, kudos to their movement director, Jennifer Jackson. Jacob James Beswick gives a stand out performance as Pinkie, the character made me feel uncomfortable due to his unpredictable nature. Sarah Middleton brought a notable sense of light and shade to the characterisation of Rose, the chemistry with Beswick was palpable at times. Shamira Turner demonstrated almost chameleon-like qualities as she played a myriad of both male and female roles to a superbly high standard. Meanwhile, Gloria Onitiri positively shone as Ida, I have previously seen her as Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmations so I was familiar with her work. Not only does she offer a tour de force performance, fierce yet sympathetic, her singing ability is extraordinary, what a velvety toned voice!
The lighting is atmospheric, brooding and frames the action-packed drama, whilst the set is multi-functional – offering a variety of locations and easily manoeuvred to create different spaces. The simple yet effective structure looked quite spectacular when lit up to replicate Brighton Pier itself.
My experience of Cheltenham Everyman Theatre itself was a poignant one, it being World Theatre Day. From the friendly, helpful staff, to the ornate interior of the auditorium, it all combined to make an unforgettable visit for all the right reasons.
For a fast-paced and thought-provoking evening at the theatre which simultaneously offers very real, believable insight into gangster life, this piece has it all.