The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 11th April, 2018
This new production from Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal rocks into town with an irresistible swagger. Composer Hannah Peel’s score is designed to quicken the heartbeat, the drum-heavy arrangements tribal and exciting like jungle drums. Our jungle is the criminal underworld of 1950s Brighton, where rival gangs of protectionists rule the streets.
Leading one such gang is Pinkie – a perky performance by Jacob James Beswick. His Pinkie is cocksure, tough and volatile, who sees his youth (aged 17) as no handicap. In fact, his lack of years is a plus: he can’t be hanged for his crimes. He also has a cavalier attitude to eternal damnation – planning to play the Catholic get-out-of-Hell-free card by repenting in the last minute of his life. Superstition is a recurring theme, be it church-going or dabbling with a Ouija board.
Pinkie promise: Jacob James Beswick (Photo: Karl Andrew Photography)
Sarah Middleton is the perfect contrast to Pinkie in every way as Rose, the girl whose affections Pinkie waylays in order to stop her from going to the cops with what she knows. Rose is blinded, not by the vitriol Pinkie waves in her face, but by his attentions, proving herself fiercely loyal albeit misguided. A tight ensemble plays the supporting roles, notable among them is the versatile Angela Bain, as Spicer, a priest, and others. Jennifer Jackson, appearing as the ultra-cool rival boss Colleoni, is responsible for the stylised movements – the violence is savagely choreographed – and Jackson performs a sinuous bit of expressive jazz dancing to accompany the turmoil of the lead characters.
Dominating the action is Ida, seeking justice for a murdered beau. Gloria Onitiri is thoroughly magnificent. Funny, determined, passionate and with a dirty laugh, she also treats us to her rich singing voice in a couple of cool torch songs.
The show is ineffably cool in the way that bad boys are cool. But we are definitely on Ida’s side, as the moral compass of the story.
Director Esther Richardson keeps things slick and sharp as a razor, employing the ensemble as stagehands to keep the action continuous and the transitions seamless. Bryony Lavery’s splendid adaptation of the Graham Greene novel delivers the feel of the era, the argot of the underworld, while Sara Perks’s all-purpose set evokes Brighton Pier chief among the other locations. There is a Kneehigh feel to proceedings with the stylisation, the onstage musicians and so on – and there’s nothing wrong in that. Quite the contrary!
Gripping, entertaining and inventively presented, this is one stick of rock that has QUALITY running all the way through it.
The mighty Gloria Onitiri as Ida (Photo: Karl Andre Photography)
Leave a comment | tags: Angela Bain, Brighton Rock, Bryony Lavery, Esther Richardson, Gloria Onitiri, Graham Greene, Hannah Peel, Jacob James Beswick, Jennifer Jackson, Pilot Theatre, review, Sara Perks, Sarah Middleton, The REP Birmingham, York Theatre Royal | posted in Review
THE MACHINE STOPS
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 4th April, 2017
This production from Pilot Theatre comes to the end of its tour at the Belgrade’s B2 studio. Given its themes, you would think the original short story on which the play is based was written five minutes ago. The story is astonishingly prescient and no less pertinent having first seen the light of day in 1909. That’s 1909 not 2009.
We are in a post-apocalyptic future. Humanity lives underground, each individual in their own room or cell in which they find all their needs fulfilled by the ‘Machine’ that sustains them. All communication is done via personal screens – in this way, people have contacts the whole world over but they never meet. Sound familiar? Kuno (Rohan Nedd) has other ideas. He believes that humanity has lost something of itself because we no longer interact in person. He’s not wrong. He tries to persuade his mother – the woman who gave birth to him, to be more precise – that there is more to life, that the surface isn’t as barren and toxic as the Machine leads everyone to believe.
The woman – Vashti, played by an excellent Ricky Butt – clings to her blinkered views and complete and blind faith in the Machine as a force for good. She even begins praying to it – in a stark reminder that the divine is manmade. It is only when it’s too late and the Machine breaks down that Vashti realises what has been lost.
It’s an enthralling piece, rich with ideas both in form and content. Maria Gray and Adam Slynn are almost ever-present as parts of the Machine, writhing and contorting in grey bodystockings, in a mesmerising display of acrobatics and physicality. Rhys Jarman’s set consists of a framework that serves as a kind of jungle gym for the Machine parts as well as delineating the limits of the cells. Tom Smith’s lighting makes superb use of darkness for chilling effect, and Juliet Forster’s direction keeps the action taut, the ideas provocative. In fact, only the electronic music seems somewhat dated in its presentation of ‘futuristic’ sounds.
Adam Slynn and Maria Gray (Photo: Ben Bentley)
Rohan Nedd portrays Kuno’s rebellious drive and evangelism with verve but it is Ricky Bull’s Vashti who has the stronger impact, like a Brexiteer clinging to the wreckage of civilisation and proclaiming all is well.
Neil Duffield’s adaptation reveals the relevance of the original story – unless we regain our relationship with nature, we are doomed. In these days of unfettered capitalism and climate change denial, the message is urgent and compelling.
And the writer of the original tale, way back in 1909? None other than E. M. Forster! He of Room With A View fame and the source of many other Merchant-Ivory films. This seems as astounding to me as the story itself. Good on you, E. M!
Ricky Butt (Photo: Ben Bentley)
Leave a comment | tags: Adam Slynn, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, EM Forster, Juliet Forster, Maria Gray, Neil Duffield, Pilot Theatre, Rahan Nedd, review, Rhys Jarman, Ricky Butt, The Machine Stops, Tom Smith | posted in Theatre Review