Brighton Rock

I’ve always thought it was a tricky ask to put classic literature on the stage. Sometimes it becomes too heavy, too narrative driven. At the other extreme it becomes too detached from the original, perhaps through redrawing character or excessive physical theatre. But Pilot Theatre’s production of Brighton Rock at the Lowry as part of week53 seems to hit a middle ground that draws out the most important themes and creates a very real and threatening world that stays with you after the performance has ended.

There is such atmosphere in this production, strongly evoking the sense of place and the constant undercurrent of violence. The stage is filled with metal gantry to evoke both Brighton Pier and the clubs, cafes and houses of the seaside town. It’s a stroke of genius to have the immensely talented Hannah Peel compose the soundtrack, full of sinister synths and drums. She says, in an interview with York Press, It’s the thriller element and the darkness that I’m drawn to, and the inner workings of a psychotic mind. Although the play is strongly rooted in place, there is a fluidity to time and the contemporary soundtrack drives this.

Jacob James Beswick creates a Pinkie that screams masculine contradictions in our lives today. At seventeen he wants to be seen as the big man, threatening and carrying out acts of violence, yet does not drink for fear of losing control. He is terrified of intimacy. He threatens young women with vitriol – acid attacks. Rose (Sarah Middleton) appears initially naive but grows in complexity to aspire to become Pinkie’s equal. In another story they could become Bonnie and Clyde. But all the way through it is impossible to ignore their youth, and to judge (or perhaps empathise with) the mistakes they are making.

This is all balanced by the amateur detective Ida (Gloria Onitiri) who is everything Pinkie is not, thinking she can solve all the ills of the world. Her supernatural superstition and belief in fate to Pinkie’s Catholicism. Her sexual freedom to Pinkie’s fear. Her belief in ‘right’ over Pinkie’s need to do whatever needs to be done. She is the naive incomer attracted to the bright lights of Brighton that does not see the dark criminal underbelly in this seaside resort. How many times do we visit towns and cities in Britain without ever understanding what is going on below the surface?

Bryony Lavery’s interpretation of the classic text shows a real understanding of how the themes of Brighton Rock are still just as relevant today. But it takes stunning music, an evocative set dimly lit and an impressive cast to pull it all together and make this such a compelling piece of theatre.



Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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