Pinkie and Rose

Jacob James Beswick as Pinkie and Sarah Middleton as Rose on Brighton Pier. Pictures: Karl Andre Photography

Brighton Rock

Birmingham Rep


Pinkie is 17, disturbed, dangerous, a textbook sociopath and a small time gangster with big time ideas.

Jacob James Beswick plays him to perfection, a cocky, teenage thug afraid of nothing – except perhaps sex or any sort of meaningful relationship. Happy to kill anyone, even those who regard him, or who he regards as a friend.

Pinkie struts his Brighton manor, always aggressive, always in motion, a bundle or nervous energy, never still, like a Jack Russell with worms

Graham Greene’s novel was set in the 1930’s around two gangs centred on Brighton racecourse battling over control of the lucrative protection racket in the seaside resort.

Director Esther Richardson and writer Bryony Lavery’s production, at least as far as designer Sara Perks’ setting and costumes are concerned, seem to move it to the late 1950s or early 1960s with sharp tight suits – mod style – and winkle pickers, not that that matters.

Pinkie blames Fred, journalist Charlie Hale, for the death of Kite, the gang’s leader, so when Fred returns to the town as Kolley Kibber, a newspaper promotion character with 10 guinea prizes – Pinkie, who has taken over the gang, takes his violent revenge on Fred, and kills him.

An inquest decides death by natural causes so end of story . . . except gang member Spicer, played by Angela Bain, has been spotted by a waitress, Rose, played by Sarah Middleton, leaving Kolly Kibber cards in an attempt to create an alibi suggesting Kibber had died later than in fact he did. 

Rose, who can destroy that alibi is a loose end, as is Spicer, and Pinkie does not like loose ends, not working out that dealing with one loose end creates a chain reaction.

His solution with the loyal Spicer is his standard violent way of dealing with problems, a fatal accident, while Rose is another problem. She falls for the violent, dangerous Pinkie but Pinkie’s expressions of love have a somewhat false ring and he shows both a strange fascination and morbid fear of sex.

Whether his twisted Roman Catholic morality baulks at killing a woman or not, Pinkie finds another solution – marriage, on the less than romantic basis that a wife cannot be compelled to give evidence against her husband – at least until a change of the law in 1984.

And the law was another loose end, in the shape of solicitor Prewitt, played by Shamira Turner who was a witness to Spicer’s unfortunate ‘accidental’ death.

Then there is Pinkie’s gang with Dorian Simpson’s no questions asked Dallow, his loyal lieutenant, the only one he really trusts, and Cubitt, played by Marc Graham, his rather flakey foot soldier.

With Fred’s death declared natural causes and Rose under Pinkie’s control, all should be plain sailing, except Kite was in competition with the established Colleoni gang, led by its white clad matriarch played by Jennifer Jackson.

It is a clever touch to have Pinkie’s gang in black hats and the Colleoni mob in white, which avoids confusion in the gangland clashes. 

An even bigger threat though is Ida. She was with Fred when he vanished only to be found dead under the pier, and is not convinced by the inquest verdict; a session with a Ouija board convinces her he was murdered.

fred and ida

Marc Graham as a terrified, soon to be dead Fred and Gloria Onitiri as Ida

She might have no religion but has a strong sense of right and wrong and feels she owes Fred justice, and turns detective working first on Rose, then Cubitt and finally Dallow.

It is a super performance from Gloria Onitiri, last seen at the Rep as Cruella de Vil in The 101 Dalmatians, prising the truth out of the murky Brighton underworld, along with displaying a fine jazz voice with the songs from composer and musical director Hannah Peel played with drummer James Field on stage.

Ida is supported in her quest for truth by Chris Jack as Phil her boyfriend, husband, would be lover . . . we never really know although we do know he will happily follow her to the ends of the earth.

The ensemble are so good with priests, gangsters, barmen, policement, passers by, waitresses and the like that it is quite a surprise to find only nine people in the cast, who had some well desereved cheers at he curtain call.

There are no prizes for guessing Pinkie is not going to make it to voting age – his destiny was decided long ago and Lavery has taken the bones of Greene’s gangster novel which with Perks’ clever skeletal two level set and tight direction sees scenes evolve seamlessly to keep the plot galloping along to its inevitable end.

The first stage adaptation, in 1942, saw Richard Attenborough as Pinkie, a role that was to make him a star when he reprised it in John Boulting’s celebrated film of 1947. Incidentally, the film also had William Hartnell, the first Dr Who, playing the part of Dallow.

This adaptation is a stylised production, cinematic in its often short scenes, very much black and white apart from Ida’s red dresses; the result is a stark, gloomy affair with a undercurrent of violence you feel is bubbling just below the surface.

The result is a fascination glimpse into Greene’s soulless world of mobs and murder by the sea.To 14-04-18

Roger Clarke


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