pilot theatre presents

16 February 2018 – 26 May 2018

Brighton Rock

"arresting episodes spring from an imaginative staging "

The Observer

To stay afloat in the theatre, a woman has always needed to do more than one thing. One of the skills that has kept Bryony Lavery’s theatrical career buoyant over some four decades is that of adaptation. Treasure Island, 101 Dalmatians, Our Mutual Friend and now Brighton Rock, in a joint production by York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre. Graham Greene’s 1938 novel of damnation by the seaside is ripe for dramatisation, coasting on highly charged realism and apocalyptic suggestion. Gangs, acid attacks, stabbings, protection rackets, sudden death, gaudy comfort, cakes in cafes, absolute cruelty. All lit up by the flare of Greene’s Catholicism.

Fourteen years ago, the Almeida put on a tepid musical version. This is darker, less lavish and more emotionally ambitious.

Lavery has filleted the book into a series of quick moments. Pilot’s new artistic director, Esther Richardson, has made a production that flickers from one brightly lit spot to another. Economical but lucid. Sara Perks’s design goes to the sad heart of the matter. An iron walkway twists above the stage, curving down to contain a dismal bedroom. Lit with spotlights, it becomes a pier: an illusion of gaiety perched on a dark sea. Hannah Peel’s music gives that heart a beat. Drums tick and thrum through the action. Occasionally a dainty melody – Elizabethan Serenade tinkles respectably – is given an icy turn.

The warm, human hope of the evening, the bold, free-with-her-favours Ida, is given gorgeous voice by Gloria Onitiri in numbers with a touch of music hall and sometimes the swing of jazz; she moves through the play like a beacon in scarlet or leopardskin. In a mesmerising moment, Jacob James Beswick, as vicious Pinkie, sings to the waitress he has in his thrall: Sarah Middleton is sweetly persuasive as this teenage innocent. He is very still as he delivers – beautifully – the Agnus Dei. It rings out like a terrible taunt.

The most arresting episodes spring from an imaginative staging that is not matched by individual performances. As yet. I saw Brighton Rock at preview, which in the case of this small company meant after only a couple of stagings. The cast has time to go up a notch as the production goes on tour. Then this could be really remarkable.

Brighton Rock ★★★★

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