Review: Brighton Rock, York Theatre Royal

Jacob James Beswick as Pinkie and Sarah Middleton as Rose in Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal's production of Brighton Rock. Picture by Karl Andre.
Jacob James Beswick as Pinkie and Sarah Middleton as Rose in Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal's production of Brighton Rock. Picture by Karl Andre.
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Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock became a cult classic thanks to the 1948 film adaptation starring Richard Attenborough as teenage hoodlum Pinkie. The more recent big screen outing showed how difficult John Boulting’s direction was to match and this new production by Pilot Theatre suffers from much the same flaws.

It’s disappointing because all the elements of a great piece of theatre are here.

In Esther Richardson’s hands this is a production which looks and sounds brilliant. Set beneath the shadow of the West Pier, Greene’s novel showed a side of the resort no one wanted to see. It exposed the violence simmering behind the seafront and here the score, composed by Hannah Peel, which is both beautiful and eerie, does much the same.

For the York Theatre Royal run, Peel is on stage alongside percussionist James Field and as Pinkie’s psychopathic tendencies threaten to damage everyone he comes close to, the music too turns toxic.

Sadly though the story of Catholic guilt, gang warfare and a generation growing up without any moral boundaries is lost, particularly in the first half where it seems more time has been spent nailing the often complex scene changes than the emotional heart of the piece.

The second half is more successful and there are some beautiful moments, particular between Pinkie (Jacob James Beswick) and Sarah Middleton as Rose, the teenage waitress who falls under his spell.

The rest of the cast do their best, and Gloria Ontiri deserves particular praise as Ida. Determined to bring Pinkie to justice, she is the glue which holds the production together.

With some fine tuning this could be a performance to live long in the memory. Unfortunately, right now this particularly piece of Brighton Rock doesn’t have much running through its core.