With a dark, menacing take on Graham Greene’s 1930’s novel, York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre bring thriller noir Brighton Rock to the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham this week.

The Story

In murky 1930’s Brighton, the demise of 17 year old Pinkie’s gang leader thrusts him into role of swaggering gangster kingpin. His quest for revenge is witnessed by youthful waitress, Rose; rather than dispose of her, Pinkie persuades the naive Rose to marry him to prevent the long arm of the law reaching him. Local barmaid turned detective, Ida, is determined to bring justice to the world and seeks to protect Rose from the violent underbelly that is Pinkie’s Brighton.

The Cast

Whilst Greene’s original novel makes much of the Pinkie and Rose’s Catholicism, it is rather muted in this adaptation, the focus instead being on their youthful naivety. Jacob James Beswick’s delivers an arrogant, truly irredeemable Pinkie with jutting chin and hands thrust deep into his pockets, but as his situation worsens the mask begins to slip, revealing the scared boy beneath. Jacob manages to convey a lot through very little; perfectly minuscule gestures and subtle expressions say far more than words ever could.

He behaves so abhorrently to Sarah Middleton’s Rose that you might wonder why they remain together. You get a good sense though, when Pinkie recoils during a sex scene at the cinema, that a healthy dose of Catholic repression and a rather immature view of love are the glue that blinds and binds them together.

Gloria Onitiri’s Ida shines against the largely monochromatic staging; her bold leopard print and refusal to be silenced bringing warmth and light to the play. Ida is atheistic yet maintains her fierce pursuit for true justice; this is in stark contrast to Pinkie’s moral compass. Devout Catholicism allows him to commit heinous crimes so long as he repents his sins. This battle between light and dark is compelling and leaves the audience willing Ida to triumph.

The ensemble cast are brilliant, seemingly shedding their skins to change from character to character with slick, precisely choreographed moves. Movement plays a key role in the stories progression; the re-imagining of Pinkie and Rose’s wedding night through dance and sound alone is beautifully done. Hannah Peel’s original score and the on-stage musicians introduce a percussive and slightly menacing undertone to the play, building tension perfectly. I’m not always a fan of being able to see the musicians but it worked well in this instance.

The Verdict

Brighton Rock has received rave reviews on its run thus far and it’s obvious why. Whilst good writing is critical to a play’s success, it’s often the smallest and most unnoticeable gestures, staging and direction that elevate it to the next level. Bryony Lavery’s adaptation and Esther Richardson’s direction do an excellent job in this regard, combining many such subtleties to great effect. It can be difficult to adapt 70 year old novels for a modern audience, but Brighton Rock remains relevant. This is definitely one to watch out for if you can get tickets!

Where can you see Brighton Rock?

Brighton Rock is on at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham until Saturday 31st March 2018. It then heads off on tour around the UK until the end of May.

What’s on next at the Everyman Theatre?

Don’t miss David Walliam’s award winning children’s epic, Gangsta Granny, coming to Cheltenham on Wednesday 4th April. Tweedy the clown’s Slapstick Symphony follows on Sunday 8th April; if you’ve not seen him at the Cotswold’s very own Giffords Circus before, you’re in for a treat!

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