BRYONY Lavery is a Yorkshire-born playwright who won a UK Theatre Award for her production Frozen in 1998. She has written and directed dozens more plays since then, including Kursk, which was set on board a nuclear submarine, and Treasure Island at The National Theatre. She is the driving force behind the first ever theatre tour of Graham Greene’s classic novel Brighton Rock. Lavery tells EDWIN GILSON about translating the book to the stage, why the story has relevance post-Weinstein and writing roles for women

Hi Bryony, how’s your New Year been so far?

I’ve been ill so I’ve written this week off. I’m up to date with Game of Thrones, so you can’t say I’ve been wasting my time.

You said the idea of directing Brighton Rock made your heart lift. Did you immediately see the book’s potential to become a play?

I hadn’t read it for years and years. I remembered liking it but I wasn’t sure why I liked it. When I went back to it I realised it’s got lots of great themes and I could feel the characters vividly. There’s drama, tragedy and humour so all of that made my heart lift, yes.

Do you remember reading it for the first time?

It was in my early 20s and I think I was quite a naive women then. I probably thought it wasn’t about me, a nice middle-class girl. But doing it again now, I realise it’s mainly about teenagers who have terrible home lives and how they stray into gangs and things like that.

Do you think that doomed teenage relationship between Pinkie and Rose will appeal to a younger audience?

I hope so. I read a newspaper article this morning which said that a lot of young people’s heroes now are middle-age, and I thought “oh God, we’ve got to put that right.” It’s interesting we haven’t got any particularly young leaders in politics at the moment – maybe that’s why we’re in such a fix. 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 and stuck in a terrible, violent adolescence.

How have you gone about recreating the noir aesthetic of Greene’s novel on stage?

We’ve got a very cool team. [Alternative musician] Hannah Peel is making music live on stage and what I’ve done is just keep it as spare as possible. Greene provides great dialogue and it feels very sharp and edgy. We’re sort of trying to do a period piece but the music and direction of it is going to be really cool, I think. I’m probably using the wrong word there. Maybe mint would be better.

Will there be recognisable Brighton landmarks in the show’s design?

The pier is in the set, yes. There is a lot of that wrought iron that is a big feature of the Brighton that Greene presented, too. The book sometimes goes up the coast a bit but we very much want to keep it as much about Brighton as possible.

You often hear directors claiming their show is “more relevant than ever.” Does Brighton Rock have modern resonance or is it enough to just appreciate it for what it is?

I wouldn’t have done it if it didn’t have relevance, because that would be like making a historical play, a theme park play. It’s not that. I like the notion of a middle-age woman, Ida, trying to rescue a girl from an abusive relationship. As soon as you say abusive relationship, you don’t have to look very far to see why that’s relevant today. The reason Pinkie and Rose are together are due to all sorts of problems in their own lives. When I read it again, I thought “oh for God’s sake.” A big discovery is that it’s quite a sado-masochistic, their relationship.

I read that you started writing plays because you were fed up of terrible acting roles. Is that fair?

I think there was one specific example. When I was in college I was made to play the left arm of a sofa. All I had to do was stand with my left arm out. I thought, “I wonder if I can write something instead?” Certainly when I was first writing professionally I made sure to put plenty of women roles in my plays. I knew a lot of really good female actors who were doing rubbish parts because that’s all there was for them.

You’ve written plays featuring exclusively women, haven’t you?

I have, but not always. I’ve just been in Washington DC where my play Kursk had all men in it. But if there is an adaptation I do suggest we have gender blind casting for most of it. In Brighton Rock, our gang are half men, half women. It’s good to experiment with that.

Was it the same with your version of Treasure Island?

Absolutely. Once I read the book I realised it was a great yarn but there were only two women in it – Jim’s mother and Long John Silver’s wife. I thought, “I can’t do a Christmas show at The National Theatre where there weren’t good roles for women”. So I made Jim a woman, to shock and horror. I researched it and found lots of splendid, bloodthirsty women pirates through history, too.

When you say shock horror, do you mean there was genuine outrage about your casting choice?

Well, when I did interviews, every time the first question was “why is it a girl when it’s a story for boys?” I just said, “this year it isn’t going to be that.”

Brighton Rock, Theatre Royal Brighton, March 6 to 10, 7.45pm (2.30pm matinee on Thursday and Saturday),