Tony-Award nominee Bryony Lavery’s new adaptation of Brighton Rock, Graham Greene’s iconic 1938 novel of sin and redemption, is set to tour the UK from February.
Here she talks to Stage Review about the revival of this visceral coming of age story that shocked both stage and screen audiences at its debut.
How did you get involved in adapting Graham Greene’s novel for the stage?
I was commissioned by director Esther Richardson and Pilot. Esther came to me and said she really wanted to work with me and did I know Brighton Rock? I said I knew it a bit.
As I always do with an adaptation I read the book and if I love it, I do it and if I can find a way of doing it – even if it’s going to be hard – I also do it.
My absolute rule for doing any work at all is that the heart lifts at the thought. I will say yes if I have time to do it. If my heart drops I won’t. I have turned down certain novel because I don’t feel any infinity with them.
How well did you know Brighton Rock?
I read the book a long time ago. I had never seen the original film but, quite by chance, had seen the latest 2010 film version with Sam Riley and Helen Mirren.
I’m avoiding seeing the original 1947 film until completing the adaptation, then I am going to treat myself to watching it.
Why adapt Brighton Rock for the stage?
Because it is such a treasure chest of narrative delights.
It has got everything…It’s a love story, a revenge tragedy, a small-town murder mystery, an array of small-time gangsters and a middle-aged woman who knows no fear and who will stop at nothing to do right.
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 in a terrible, violent, adolescence
How much collaboration was there with director Esther Richardson in shaping the adaptation?
We first talked about a framing device and whether you can update it but when I went away I thought you can’t update it.
There is a very different feeling to the time when the book is set. What I had to do was find a way of making it modern and cool but that’s very much suggested not shown.
After four drafts I don’t know who has had most ideas. I think it was Esther who decided that musician Hannah Peel should be part of it, which was a very good idea.
The music is going to be a huge part of it. It feels like a very free collaboration. That’s the sign of a good partnership when you ask: ‘Did I think of that or did Esther?’.
You’ve adapted a number of novels for the stage – what is your approach?
Every one is different but sort of the same. The basic thing is you have to find a strong way of doing it.
What’s different is that sometimes one has to re-write a lot and sometimes that’s just changing dialogue.
Brighton Rock the novel has some very strong dialogue which has a very strong flavour. Graham Greene has done a terrific job.
How will Hannah Peel’s music work in the production?
I did a version where I wrote what music it suggested to me. We played this and had a workshop and everybody gave suggestions for the music that it suggested to them.
Hannah has listened to all that. It started with her and a girl drummer making music in the room which we thought is the way to go.
And so we have live music. What we are aiming for is a strong period flavor but a strong cool modern approach.
What’s the difference between an original play and an adaptation?
They are all new plays. The difference is that with adaptations I get an extremely gifted co-writer who is no longer with us and who agrees with everything I say really.
I refer to myself as assistant because I think my job is to provide the theatricality and make the stage the home for this particular writer’s works.
They do a lot of the lovely work, they do the character and the plot. They do a lot of work for me in in a very decent way.
Brighton Rock opens at York Theatre Royal on February 16 and runs until March 3 before touring.
Tour Dates 2018
March 6 – 10, Brighton Theatre Royal March 13 – 17, Mercury Theatre Colchester March 20 – 24, Hull Truck Theatre March 27 – 31, Everyman, Cheltenham April 10 – 14, Birmingham Repertory Theatre April 19 – 21, Theatre Royal, Winchester April 24 – 28, Watford Palace May 1 – 5, Northern Stage May 8 – 12, Theatr Clwyd May 15 – 19, Derby Theatre May 22 – 26, The Lowry, Salford