Brighton Rock @ Northern Stage 01/05/2018

Bryony Lavery’s adaptation of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock comes to Newcastle’s Northern Stage as part of a wider UK tour.

Beginning with the death of gangland boss Kite and the attempt of his prodigy Pinkie to seek revenge, Brighton Rock hits an impressive intensity in its opening minutes, maintaining it for the duration.

Largely shot in subdued lighting, the evocation of dingy backstreets, dank boarding houses and constant threat of violence never leaves the theatre. The darkness is beautifully-balanced by the ray-of-light presence of Ida, an amateur detective whose glamour and nosiness combine to brighten an otherwise singular world of violence. It’s a great performance from Gloria Onituri, and allowing her character a greater role also gives the piece a much-needed sane voice.

Often debated amongst scholars of the novel is the plausibility of Pinkie’s great contradiction – on the one hand prepared to murder anyone who gets in his way, on the other a firm believer in Hell for those who have sinned. Lavery’s adaptation – combined with an edge-of-the-seat performance from Jacob James Beswick – covers the religious angle without allowing it the dominating force it becomes in the novel, and this subtle interpretation serves the piece brilliantly.

Seen alongside Pinkie’s adolescent wedding night nerves and fear of intimacy, his religious rantings fit perfectly within the mind of a confused teenager for whom life no longer has purpose. This emphasis on youthful confusion over fully-formed religious conviction also gives space in the plot to suggest that, with Kite’s death, Pinkie lost not just a mentor but a father figure too – perhaps the only person he ever listened to. Without Kite’s presence, there is nothing to stop Pinkie going off the rails.

A faithful interpretation of Greene’s novel with some fantastic modern touches; Lavery’s adaptation makes for a thrilling piece of theatre and a real lesson on how to adapt a classic.