It might be 80 years old but Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock has enduring relevance, says the creator of a new stage adaptation

Hero image

Adaptations of Graham Greene’s 1938 novel Brighton Rock include two films, a number of plays and even a musical. “It is such a treasure chest of narrative delights,” explains dramatist Bryony Lavery.

“It has got everything. It’s a love story, a revenge tragedy, a small-town murder mystery, has an array of small-time gangsters and a middle-aged woman who knows no fear and who will stop at nothing to do right.”

Set against a backdrop of inequality in an age of austerity, when gang wars and violence raged, it’s easy to see the renewed resonance of Greene’s classic tale of good vs evil. Lavery has written a contemporary stage adaptation for York-based Pilot Theatre, which makes “grown-up work for young adult audiences”, according to director Esther Richardson.

The play was co-commissioned for the Lowry’s contemporary theatre festival, Week 53, where it will be performed following a three-month tour. Adding to the appeal for younger audiences, Brighton Rock will also feature a soundtrack by the acclaimed singer, musician and composer Hannah Peel.

The story follows a gang leader, 17-year-old Pinkie, as he commits a string of brutal crimes and embarks on an ill-fated marriage to waitress Rose.

“He’s one of the meanest, and youngest, villains ever and they are two of the most heart-stopping and authentic teenagers I’ve ever read, with all their dark dreams and weird life choices,” says Lavery, best known for her award-winning play Frozen about the disappearance of a 10-year-old girl.

“In the poisoned relationship between Pinkie and Rose, there is one of the best accounts ever of what it is like to be 16 and 17 years old in a terrible, violent, adolescence.”

Lavery avoided looking to any other adaptations of Brighton Rock. “I always avoid any other version of something I might adapt, because I like my relationship to be with the original piece of art.

“The challenge is to be recognisably the staging of the book, but workably thrilling for actors to inhabit live. The plus with adaptation is working with a brilliant co-writer, who has already worked out the plot, the story, and provided brilliant characters and a strong and watchable milieu.”

Lavery has dealt with Greene’s themes of forgiveness and redemption but in the original they relate to Catholic doctrine. Do the novel’s theological questions have any bearing on young audiences in more secular times?

“In my view, yes. In our workshops there are often long and interesting discussions about religion, particularly, as in the novel, about death, forgiveness and the possibility of redemption.”

But what does would Greene have made of the world 16 and 17 year olds today inhabit? “Having spent some time with his brain and written work I think he’d be writing fabulous novels about it.”

Brighton Rock opens at York Theatre Royal, 16 Feb-3 March, before heading out on a national tour. It arrives at Hull Truck Theatre, 20-24 March, concluding in Salford at Week 53, the Lowry, 22-26 May

Photo: Jacob james Beswick and Sarah Middleton as Pinkie and Rose in Brighton Rock. Below: Bryony Lavery

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to Preview: Brighton Rock

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.