The Lowry’s Week 53 Festival returns to Salford for twelve days and features the fantastic stage adaptation of Graham Greene’s classic novel Brighton Rock.
Set in the heart of British seaside town Brighton, a young waitress witnesses a gang’s activity and their enforcer Pinkie is fearful he’ll be found out so tricks her into falling in love with him. When a pleasure-seeking lady Ida grows suspicious about a man she met in Brighton dying, she is convinced it is murder and becomes entangled in their romance to try to get to the truth.
I spoke to Jacob James Beswick who plays the leading role of Pinkie and Shamira Turner who plays a series of characters in the show. “I would say it is a thriller and you follow two stories, one about a woman trying to get justice and one about a boy trying to become a man in all the wrong ways,” Jacob said. “It is about a boy trying to navigate growing up”
The book and film that many will remember follows the life of young Pinkie in the 1930s who is the leader of a mob gang. When he finds out about a dear friend’s death, he seeks revenge and we witness his struggle through life. “It has haunting, relentless live music,” said Shamira. “Which makes the 1930s story so pertinent. It is about turmoil, ethics, morality and growing up.”
Throughout the story, Pinkie struggles with relationships, particularly with women. This is evident in his behaviour towards his girlfriend Rose, who he manipulates and treats incredibly badly. “There are a lot of arguments about him being a psychopath and sociopath so I watched lots of documentaries on those issues to see how I felt about him,” Jacob said. “At first I really threw myself into the role, I was very aggressive, intense and unapologetic. Then I took a step back to make it more nuanced and I really worked on his relationship with Rose and the way he acts around women.”
Pinkie is seventeen in the story, and he is constantly trying to stay on top of the mob at a really young age. “I wasn’t familiar with the novel at all before I got the part, so after I read the script I delved into the novel a few times,” Jacob explained. With masculinity a huge theme in the story, Shamira added how it is so exciting to reevaluate this current dialogue going on about toxic masculinity. “Even though it is set in the 1930s, it is really important how suffocating these gender constructs are that we are living through,” she said.
Jacob added: “The only way that you as a man were able to express your emotions, and today to some extent, is through anger and aggression and not showing your vulnerability. A lot of what Graham Greene wrote in his novel is that Pinkie and Rose are both from poverty and harsh backgrounds and that is how they give and receive love.”
The two parallel stories in the show are Pinkie trying to cover up his mistakes, and a woman named Ida who witness’ Pinkie’s crime and is on a mission to seek justice. Alongside that, Shamira takes on a multitude of roles to progress the story. “I play many characters that Pinkie interacts with including one of these ‘dark angel’ characters that lurk under the pier and echo Pinkie’s inner turmoil,” she explained. “I also play a crooked lawyer, a crazy mystic and a recently bereaved Sylvie. Each character has a different voice and physicality so I find it really helpful to have some clear points of difference between them, for the audience as much as me.”
As a study text for many years, many generations are familiar with the original text. Shamira emphasised how it is the kind of show that makes the most sense when they’ve got teenagers in the audience. “You just feel that real connection and recognition,” she said. “You hear laughs in different places and they are just so engaged with it.” Jacob added: “They really understand that awkwardness as they recognise themselves in it. For us, it is a memory but for them, it is right now.”
Working with Pilot Theatre on the production, it brings in an array of theatrical techniques such as innovative movement, music and design. “What has been so exciting about this project is that it has really brought together some amazing creatives, we are surrounded by all these strong, vibrant and fiercely creative women,” Shamira said. “How rare to have that many women working on a show, and it is so important for a story that can be mistaken to be masculine and so un-feminist, adapted by the brilliant Bryony Lavery.”
Brighton Rock is on at The Lowry’s Week 53 festival and tickets and information can be found online here.
Read my full review of the show here.