Touring – reviewed at Theatre Royal, Brighton
Where else to see Graham Greene’s classic Brighton Rock than in the beautiful surroundings of the Theatre Royal Brighton, with the sound of seagulls and smell of fish suppers lingering on the air just outside. And Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal’s touring production makes for a gorgeously theatrical treat as it probes deep into the darkness under the pier.
Esther Richardson’s production has a striking physicality to it, utterly eyecatching but careful not to overly glamourise this noirish world. Case in point – the opening murder may be stylishly staged as sharp-suited gangsters operate as a sinuous ensemble to ensnare and execute. But Jennifer Jackson’s movement has them rocking queasily back and forth as they move in, an ugliness that stops them from ever seeming too cool.
It’s an ambivalence that permeates every beat of Bryony Lavery’s adaptation. Jacob James Beswick is fantastic as the 17-year-old gang-leader Pinkie, still a boy in a man’s world as he navigates Catholic guilt and a marriage of convenience in the name of trying to remain on top of the pile. The strange relationship that develops with Sarah Middleton’s 16-year-old Rose forms a horribly compelling bedrock to the play.
But Lavery also brings Ida Arnold to the fore, the character who finds herself drawn into the murkiness of this world despite initially only being tangentially connected to it. Determined to protect Rose (from herself as much as anything) and to get to the bottom of the murder of the man she knew briefly, the marvellous Gloria Onitiri imbues her with warmth and integrity and an irresistible sense of charisma (that chuckle!).
The use of Hannah Peel’s music, performed live throughout, offers Onitiri ample opportunity to employ her impressive vocal strength but also provides an ominous soundscape, something backed up by Aideen Malone’s evocative, even impressionistic lighting touches. And in the shadowy depths of Sara Perks’ design, which translates swiftly from pub to pad to pier, Lavery and Richardson, delightfully unencumbered from a sense of absolute fidelity to Greene, carve out their own piece of Brighton Rock.