Brighton Rock

Based on the novel by Graham Greene
A musical version by John Barry, lyrics by Don Black, book by Giles Havergal
Almeida
(2004)

Brighton Rock publicity image

Tales owing their being to the printed word may show stubborn reluctance to be translated to the stage. Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure, John Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga and Daphne du Maurier's Jamaica Inn are cases in point.

Occasionally, however, and in the hands of visionary directors, cinema and television have lured from the page, with magical results, such tales as Rebecca, Gone With The Wind and Brighton Rock.

Thus theatre directors, tempted by mouth-watering classics owing at least as much to tricks of the screen as to the authors who gave them life, attempt not dramatisation of the book at all - but the play of the film!

At the Almeida, where a gallant company are currently working their 1930s socks off in an unconvincing musical version of Brighton Rock, Director Michael Attenborough at least, as the son of Richard the original Pinkie Brown on both stage and screen, ought to have known better.

Is he restaging Graham Greene's tale of mob rule in crumbling, downtown Brighton? Is composer John Barry writing music for the 1940s stage version? Or are both simply hooked by a dream inspired by John Boulting's 1947 film? Where camera, as much as actor, ensures the audience see what the director intends, in this case, the sadistic coldness of Attenborough Senior's 'teenage monster Pinkie Brown?.

Les Brotherson's settings are nicely suggestive of period and place. For that matter the Almeida interior itself resembles a seaside theatre, especially as the bar serving fish and chips at £4 a portion.

And Michael Jibson is a brave young man but his Pinkie is a criminal rather than a psychopath. A yob you half expect to break down and say:' sorry'. There has to be something exceptional about a boy who makes half grown men, like Paul Bentall's Spicer and Anthony Clegg's Crabb, squirm with fear. And young Jibson is not young Richard Attenborough.

Harriet Thorpe, on the other hand, is close to the Ida immortalised by the cackling Hermione Baddeley of the film. Not sufficiently coarse and brassy certainly - but she has the feel of the role. As does Nicholas Lumley as Hale, the hack inspired by real-life Lobby Ludd whose fate holds the key to the drama.

Then there is Sophia Ragavelas, who may be no Dulcie Gray but whose Rose steps right out of the pages of Graham Greene's novel and almost has us believing her plight.

If I seem to overlook the score, that is because, while not unpleasant, Barry's music fails to add to the drama. The songs are almost diverting rather than sympathetic. Where are the sounds of the pier, the racecourse or the murky sea and pebbles? The cold saxophone suggests Tennessee Williams or Kurt Weill rather than pre-war Sussex.

In short, here is a tale so identified with its surroundings that everything, score included, must reflect them. I shudder to think what could have happened to another of Greene's yarn's, The Third Man, without that atmospheric zither!

The production continues until 13th November.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole