Although it was interesting to see the writer’s characters come to life on stage in Fellow Traveller Theatre Company’s adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s The West Pier, it was the introductory debate which stayed in the mind.
Chair Laura Wilson drew on Hamilton’s biographer Nigel Jones and city historian Fred Gray to create a fascinating picture of both the author and Brighton in the inter-war period. Perhaps most interesting was Jones’s assertion that Hamilton himself provided 60% of his great anti-hero Ernest Ralph Gorse.
On stage, Callum Cameron perfectly inhabited Gorse, providing both his outward slickness and expressing his ugly intentions with just a single lip curl. Similarly, Abbiegale Duncan was an assured Esther Downes, looking for excitement and escape from her upbringing. Ruth McMeel almost outshone them both, drawing comedy out of every word and move-ment of Esther’s plain friend Gertrude Perks.
Director Lisa Peck used the windows looking out over the cricket pitch to create brilliant tableaux but sadly, with the piece being staged in the round, half the audience were unable to see them.
Matt Thompson’s script stuck closely to the novel, underlining Hamilton’s skill in dialogue. But extensive use of narration slowed down the action, when it might have been better to slip Esther’s lowly origins into her awkward discussions with Gorse.