BRIGHTON ROCK adaptor Bryony Lavery. Photo credit: Sam Johnson

BRIGHTON ROCK adaptor Bryony Lavery. Photo credit: Sam Johnson

Acclaimed writer Bryony Lavery talks to Frankly My Dear UK about her new adaption of Graham Greene’s classic novel BRIGHTON ROCK

Following the critical success of their co-production of E.M.Forster’s THE MACHINE STOPS, Pilot Theatre join forces once again with York Theatre Royal to bring Graham Greene’s classic novel BRIGHTON ROCK to the stage in a new adaptation by acclaimed writer Bryony Lavery.

Set in Brighton in 1938, BRIGHTON ROCK tells the story of two teenagers, Pinkie and Rose, who get embroiled in a vicious gang war in Brighton where one brutal murder leads to the next. The police are impassive, but the courageous and life-embracing Ida Arnold wants the truth and will see justice done, whatever the cost.

Ahead of its run at Salford’s The Lowry as part of Week 53, Donna Kelly of Frankly My Dear UK caught up with award-winning writer Bryony Lavery to talk about the new stage adaption and what attracted her to the project.

Frankly My Dear UK (FMD): For those who aren’t familiar with the piece, can you start by telling us a little bit about the story of BRIGHTON ROCK?

Bryony Lavery (BL): It’s a very famous book set in 1930s Brighton and it’s about a psychopath or a sociopath – we haven’t quite decided yet – called Pinkie who is 17 and is running a gang. It starts with a murder which is observed by a 16-year-old waitress called Rose. In order to not have her implicate him, he courts her and marries her. Lots of other stuff goes on but it’s sort of a dark thriller and a love story between these really young kids really.

FMD: Where you familiar with Greene’s novel or the film before you were approached to adapt it?

BL: I’d read it when I was in my 20s which is like 500 years ago now. I haven’t seen the original, famous film with Dickey Attenborough but I’ve seen the one set in the 1960s which I didn’t think worked because I don’t think you can update it because it’s very much of its time. I knew it but when Esther [Richardson] asked me to do it, I said I’m going to have to read it again see if I like it as much – and I did.

FMD: What was it about this particular story that attracted you to write a new adaptation?

BL: The main thing that really attracted me was how surprised I was, having read it a long time ago, how young Pinkie and Rose were. To really understand that the way they behave, which a lot of people find odd, is to realise that she was only 16 and he was 17. I loved exploring that.

Sarah Middleton as Rose and Jacob James Beswick as Pinkie in BRIGHTON ROCK.

Sarah Middleton as Rose and Jacob James Beswick as Pinkie in BRIGHTON ROCK.

FMD: You’re obviously experienced in adapting classic texts for the stage. What is your process for adapting a text for the stage?

BL: You know, I’ve been pretending that I have a process and then I suddenly realise that each one is different. What I do is read whatever it is and if I’m excited by it, I’ll do it. Even if I don’t know how I’m going to do it, somehow I’ll find a way and that’s sort of the excitement for me. Obviously with a stage play, the downside is that you can’t put all the detail in. The upside of is that you can do wild things with it. Like with BRIGHTON ROCK, there is this great movement in it so we can go from scene to scene very quickly and of course, Hannah Peel is doing some great music in it.

FMD: How does Hannah Peel’s music fit into the production?

BL: We all had a very early workshop together on the first draft. We did some movement with Hannah and her friend, a really cool drummer who I’ve forgotten her name, and Hannah was just improvising. We were playing around with how we could make a group of dark angels – we call them dark angels because they are sort of the dark side of Pinkie’s soul – and it sort of all came together. I went off and did another draft and worked with Esther. Esther was meanwhile working with Hannah and Hannah was just making lots of samples of bits from the show and saying, this could go here, and it just sort mixed it together.

FMD: How much collaboration was there with director Esther Richardson in shaping the adaptation? It is difficult to let go of a text that you’ve adapted?

BL: It’s really not hard if you trust the director. What actually happens in theatre is that everybody is given an opinion and what I’ve discovered, which is the most delightful thing, is that I don’t always have the best idea. I really like collaborating and I’m getting better at it. I’m still terrible if I don’t trust the director but fortunately, that’s really rare. Esther was absolutely brilliant to work with and we both went to see Brighton Rock in Birmingham and were sitting and saying, what can we do next together? It’s a successful collaboration.

FMD: Why do you think this classic text will resonate with a modern audience?

BL: It’s about the impossibility of wanting to be in love with somebody and how it seems to be just as complicated today as it was then. Also, our production is set both in present and the past because it’s got very cool, modern music in it. It’s like watching Shakespeare, it’s not old-fashioned if it’s true.

FMD: What’s next in the pipeline for you?

BL: I’ve got four things happening. They are doing Swallows and Amazons in Chester at the Storyhouse. I’m still working on The Lovely Bones which is going to about five theatres. Then in June, I’ve been working on an original piece called Fly in Canada and that’s going to open so I’m going out for that, then I’m back for Lovely Bones. A play I did in Washington DC called Dirt, we’re doing at the Pleasant in Autumn so I can’t see when I’m getting a holiday at all!

BRIGHTON ROCKS runs at The Lowry, Salford 22 – 26 May 2018.