Reviewed by Jude Featherby
Written by Graham Greene, Brighton Rock is a classic novel written 80 years ago that most of us have probably read or for sure have heard of.
I was very fortunate to be able to experience this being recreated on the stage at Derby Theatre. Adapted by Bryony Lavery and directed by Esther Richardson, it is in the final stages of its highly acclaimed 2018 Tour.
We were firstly introduced to the wonderful Ida played by the very talented Gloria Onitiri. Narrating next to an old-fashioned record player. The audience instantly got the feeling of foreboding, violence and fear.
Set in the seaside town of Brighton, it tells the story of 1930s gangsters led by a totally loathsome and detestable young 17-year-old man called Pinkie. So believable was his character, played by Jacob James Beswick, as he swaggered and swayed with every vile word that spewed from his mouth.
A retribution killing by the mob was where the story began to unfurl as Pinkie had been pronounced as the new leader. As Hannah Peel’s atmospheric heart stopping heavy drum beat and swirling percussion arrangements in the background could not have not transferred us more to the streets of 1930s Brighton and the mobsters to trap and kill their prey. As Sara Perks dark and industrial stage set spun round, morphing seamlessly within the blink of an eye. The drumming stopped abruptly and the murder of Fred (Hale) was complete.
Ida had met Fred previously in the town and was certainly not convinced as to the cause of his death being pronounced as suicide. Persuing her instincts she turned detective and telling us numerous times that she believed in “Right and Wrong”.
With the only credible witness of the murder being Rose, a sweet, vulnerable and naive 16-year-old coffee shop waitress. Pinkie set out to keep her quiet about the information she knew. Sarah Middleton’s Rose made you want to cry out to her NO! as she fell head over heels in love with Pinkie (a boy not quite a man) who only cared for himself and saving himself. A boy, because of his catholic faith, had huge hang ups over lust and not a loving bone in his selfish body.
Ida, who we had all fallen in love with by now, was Rose’s protector warning her against marriage to him, as she knew the truth. But as it is today her warnings to a 16-year-old girl who has her first love and sees no evil or wrong through her rose-tinted glasses could not be told.
The whole ensemble glide in and out of the stage in different characters and guises making the atmospheric play come even more alive with the excellent cast. With mobsters swaying in the background in nearly every scene, it gives it a very dark and unnerving sense of what has to come.
After their sham marriage Pinkie decides on even more drastic action to keep the sweet Rose quiet and all comes to a head on a brightly lit Brighton Pier.
By now feeling totally exhausted with the suspense, your love for Rose and pure hatred for Pinkie as he digs even lower than could be possible and arranges a suicide pact for them.
It has been likened to a modern-day Romeo and Juliet and certainly Bryony Lavery and Esther Richardson have brought us two very different sides of love and hate to Derby. With Gloria Onitiri’s Ida with her warmth and big heart presence “Right” will win through as we still hope for 80 years later.
An extremely thought-provoking version of this classic that will stay in your memory and have your mind transported back to 1930s Brighton hours after the cast has taken its final bow.
Tickets cost from £15.50 to £26.50 (booking fees may apply).
Brighton Rock is at Derby Theatre from 15-19 May 2018, for more information or book tickets visit www.derbytheatre.co.uk or call the box office on 01332 593939.
Derby Theatre, 15 Theatre Walk, St Peter’s Quarter, Derby, DE1 2NF | 01332 593939