Review: Brighton Rock, Theatre Royal Brighton

Pilot Theatre’s touring production of Brighton Rock is visually arresting, beautifully staged and very well acted. 

“How do you know what’s right and what’s wrong?”

Where else to see Graham Greene’s classic Brighton Rock than in the beautiful surroundings of the Theatre Royal Brighton, with the sound of seagulls and smell of fish suppers lingering on the air just outside. And Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal’s touring production makes for a gorgeously theatrical treat as it probes deep into the darkness under the pier.

Esther Richardson’s production has a striking physicality to it, utterly eyecatching but careful not to overly glamourise this noirish world. Case in point – the opening murder may be stylishly staged as sharp-suited gangsters operate as a sinuous ensemble to ensnare and execute. But Jennifer Jackson’s movement has them rocking queasily back and forth as they move in, an ugliness that stops them from ever seeming too cool. Continue reading “Review: Brighton Rock, Theatre Royal Brighton”

Review: Deathtrap, Theatre Royal Brighton

“Always when moon is full, I am in top form”

The floorboards in Sidney Bruhl’s isolated barn conversion may squeak underfoot, but there’s nothing creaky about Adam Penford’s smart revival of Ira Levin’s 1978 play Deathtrap, first seen at Salisbury Playhouse last year and now touring the UK. A play full of twists and turns, with a play-within-in-a-play and added cinematic meta-commentary thrown in for good measure, this production proves there’s still a place for classic crime thrillers in this post-Scandi-noir world.
Bruhl is a playwright struggling to accept that he is past his prime but when Clifford Anderson, a talented young playwright sends him one of only two copies of his brilliant new whodunnit, he spies an opportunity to ape the thrillers on which he built his now-flagging reputation and steal the newcomer’s success for himself, despite his wife’s reservations. But Anderson is as much a student of the genre as Bruhl and so the stage is set for, well, the unexpected.
Penford has mastered the art of suspense here, sending shocks out into the audience right from the very first beat of the play – you won’t forget Ben and Max Ringham’s sound design in a hurry!. He also lulling us into a false sense of security time and time again, for Levin’s crisply plotted spine-tingler remains a thrill as he toys mercilessly with us. Is anyone who they appear to be? Can you keep track of the double, triple, (quadruple?) crosses? Is that crossbow real?!
Paul Bradley’s Sidney is well-judged, scarcely hiding his darker urges beneath a rumpled avuncular exterior and he connects well with an impressive Jessie Wallace as his slowly unravelling wife Myra and an inspired Sam Phillips as the clean-cut Clifford, whose depths are no less fascinating as he strips off his layers. The plum role though is scene-stealer Helga den Torp, a marvellous Beverley Klein, whose psychic visions threaten to unveil what shenanigans have passed.
Morgan Large’s single room design provides the perfect arena for the drama, especially where Sidney’s collection of weaponry is concerned and Duncan MacLean’s video work is neatly inserted into the scene changes, where we’re played excerpts from Gaslight, Dial M for Murder, Witness for the Prosecution and Sleuth, dramas that Clifford mentions he loves and whose significance only grow throughout the play here. A touring thrill, Deathtrap is definitely one to catch if it comes near you.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 16th September, then touring to…
Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury 19 – 23 September 2017
Southend Palace 26 September – 30 September 2017
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford 3 October – 7 October 2017
New Theatre, Cardiff 10 October – 14 October 2017
Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham 17 – 21 October 2017
Mercury Theatre, Colchester 31 October – 4 November 2017
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham 7 November – 11 November 2017
Richmond Theatre 14 November – 18 November 2017

Review: The Full Monty, Theatre Royal Brighton

“You’ve got knockers and we’re after knobs”


Who knows why the West End run of The Full Monty lasted barely a month, I suspect the truth will never fully be known. But that was far from the end for the show, which is now midway through an extensive UK tour which does feel more like a natural home for Simon Beaufoy’s play – for me, jokes about knobs and knockers sit better on the seafront here than they ever would on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Which isn’t meant as a diss, just recognising the varying tastes of audiences and they were the key to my enjoyment of this evening – a carefree, whooping barrel of laughs coming left right and centre from a theatre full of people simply enjoying themselves. It’s a special thing to feel this sort of connection and I’m not sure if we get it that often in London theatres, or at least the ones I go to.

I mean yes, you can cavil at how the play is different from the film – how the men’s unemployment isn’t taken seriously enough, how the decline of the industrial north isn’t explored, how the seedy nature of the world of stripping isn’t interrogated – but that is not to recognise that this is just a different beast. It may not have the same intellectual integrity but it certainly has more than enough heart and humour in Daniel Evans’ production.
It’s fun (I’d forgotten the gay storyline that runs through the narrative – Rupert Hill and Bobby Schofield both delivering sensitive but strong performances), it’s silly (Martin Miller’s Dave and Louis Emerick’s Horse both get the laughs), it’s pleasant to look at (Gary Lucy is way too buff and beautiful but no one is complaining!) and it is also moving at times – Andrew Dunn nailing the depth of Gerald’s depression.
So celebrate it for what it is, not what you thought it might be. I’m the first to admit that I’m guilty of such crimes but on this occasion, bolstered by a cracking seafood dinner beforehand, a go on the coin pusher machines in the arcade and a whole dollop of Brighton bonhomie from a raucously receptive audience, there’s something hugely enjoyable here and for once, it is London that is missing out.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Matt Crockett
Booking until 13th December, then continuing to tour to Milton Keynes Theatre, Swansea Grand Theatre, Woking New Victoria Theatre, Bradford Alhambra Theatre, Nottingham Theatre Royal, Sunderland Empire, Leicester Demontfort Hall, Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall Theatre, Llandudno Venue Cymru, Ipswich Regent Theatre, Aberdeen His Majesty’s Theatre, High Wycombe Swan, Bristol Hippodrome, Dartford Orchard, Carlisle Sands Centre and Sheffield Lyceum

Review: The Kite Runner, Theatre Royal Brighton

“There is a way to be good again”

The final moments of this rendering of Khaled Hosseini’s epic 2003 novel The Kite Runner are really something special indeed, capturing the quiet ecstasy of redemptive hope with the subtlest of performances and a theatrical elegance that is gently breath-taking. But Giles Croft’s production, first seen in Nottingham and making its way next to Liverpool, takes a long time to get there, hobbled by a pedestrian adaptation by Matthew Spangler which exploits little of the storytelling possibilities within and lacks the excitement to really make it soar into the sky alongside the multi-coloured kites that play such a vital role in this tale of two young Afghan boys, Amir and Hassan, and their unlikely friendship.

It’s improbable because Hassan is the son of Amir’s father’s servant and belongs to a different ethnic group yet despite their differences, a strong bond exists between the pair, typified by the way they work together in the kite flying competitions that enliven their Kabul childhood. A brutal incident involving Hassan sets in chain a tragic turn of events though and as the heavy tide of history starts to turn, forcing Amir and his father to flee the war that erupts as the incoming Taliban take over Afghanistan, not even decades and continents can prevent the need for Amir to seek redemption.

The sweep of the story is certainly grand but Spangler’s script is mired in the prosaic and banal, overly focused on the descriptive and rarely delving into the rich emotion beneath the surface. Ben Turner’s Amir perfectly epitomises this dilemma, only intermittently able to bring the necessary depth of character to this conflicted young man as he constantly has to duck in and out of scenes to give us the next segment of narration, but he is good at showing us the boyish cowardice that Amir struggles to grow out of. For those able to stay in the scenes though, there’s much more compelling work, especially from Farshid Rokey as the fiercely loyal Hassan and latterly as Hassan’s son, he of the enigmatic smile, Nicholas Karimi as the sociopathic Assef who finds his spiritual home in the harsh regime of the invaders and from Emilio Doorgasingh as Amir’s father, who never loses his pride even as he is forced into menial work when they start their new, very different life on the west coast of the USA.

But though the cast are effective, the sense of unused potential pervades this production, exacerbated by the moments that do flare into gorgeous life. The kite flying scenes are mesmerising in their simplicity, the moonlit escape across the mountains most effective, the first meeting with the attractive daughter of a fellow ex-pat. Hanif Khan’s onstage table-playing adds an authentic rhythm to many of the scenes, but Barney George’s design is largely too polite to ever suggest heat and dirt and real life, whether in Kabul’s back streets or San Francisco’s flea markets. What it does provide is cool elegance and a chimerical ability to quickly shift, aided by William Simpson’s projections, ensuring a fluid journey throughout.

Whilst the story will move you – surely only the hardest of hearts could remain unaffected – this production rarely transports you. It is undoubtedly somewhat entertaining and the near-complete standing ovation is testament to that, but The Kite Runner is seldom exciting enough to fully exploit its theatrical potential and really involve us with the grandly epic emotion of its storytelling in a presentation that invents and inspires such as in that glorious final scene. 

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 25th May, then playing Liverpool

Originally written for The Public Reviews

Review: The Pirates of Penzance, Theatre Royal Brighton

“About binomial theorem I’m teeming with a lot o’ news, with many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse”

The Pirates of Penzance is arguably one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s best-known works (and in my house, best-loved) and has been revived here by the Carl Rosa Opera Company as part of a national tour, starting off at the Theatre Royal Brighton. Truth be told, I love this musical: I had a video of the film version with Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt as a child which I used to watch endlessly and can sing along to most all the songs! This is therefore a special week for me as I’ll be seeing two different versions of Pirates as the all-male production at Wilton’s starts previews at the end of the week.

Probably best described as a romp, it involves a group of tender-hearted pirates in their quest to conquer the hearts of a bevy of blushing maidens, daughters of the local Major General, the efforts of the bumbling local constabulary to apprehend them, a love triangle between a former pirate’s apprentice, his old nurse-maid and one of the daughters, oh and a most ingenious paradox. Continue reading “Review: The Pirates of Penzance, Theatre Royal Brighton”