The West Pier has been under the spotlight recently.

First, a reconstruction of its current state was seen in Rag ’n’ Bone Man’s scintillating performance at the Brits.

Now a realistic pre-fire model is in residence at the Theatre Royal Brighton for a captivating new play version of Brighton Rock, where it looms over the stage like an iron behemoth.

This is the first touring production of Graham Greene’s much-loved novel and its creative team has done an excellent job of capturing the noir seaside atmosphere and lingering menace of the book.

Playwright Bryony Lavery, who adapted the novel for stage, has form in making inventive theatre. Her play Kursk, set on the Russian submarine of the same name, allowed the audience to mill around the stage at their will, viewing the action from different perspectives.

While her adaption of Brighton Rock – which is directed by Esther Richardson and scored by Hannah Peel – is a little more traditional than that, it still makes clever use of the imposing pier structure to literally give the show another dimension.

Sections of the scaffolding are pulled out and given wheels, enabling various scenes to take place nearer the audience – including Fred Hale’s murder and the only time that the devoted Rose and painfully repressed Pinkie make love.

Speaking of Pinkie, Jacob James Beswick proves himself more than capable of portraying the tormented character Richard Attenborough first brought to life in the 1948 film.

The claustrophobia Pinkie feels when he is tasked with taking over his small gang when Kite dies is palpable.

It’s difficult to feel true sympathy for a teenager who commits numerous murders, but this production teases out the complexities of his personality.

His attitude towards sex in particular is treated with care and nuance, his growing discomfort at intimate encounters rendered in unflinching fashion.

Beswick’s Pinkie is a pent-up python always threatening to snap.

In a rare moment of candour he admits to Rose that it feels like there is an insect trying to escape from his chest.

Lavery told The Argus recently that the story had taken on added relevance in the post-Weinstein era and, watching her production’s depiction of the relationship between Pinkie and Rose, it is easy to see what she means.

A mention too for Gloria Onitiri, who is everything Ida Arnold should be: headstrong, spirited and a surprisingly good detective.

The show does justice to the dingy gangster-ridden underworld of pre-war Brighton.

Although for reasons unknown The Evening Argus, which plays a crucial role in the plot, is changed to The Racing Pink.

All in all, however, it’s a riveting retelling of a tale that continues to thrill audiences and capture the imagination.


The touring production of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock is at the Theatre Royal Brighton, until Saturday