Interview with playwright Bryony Lavery

By January 11, 2018

Theatre & Dance. York.

Photograph credited to Helen Maybanks

The State of The Arts are lucky enough to receive access to an interview with playwright Bryony Lavery, who shares how she first became involved in adapting Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock for the stage. Produced by Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal, the play will premiere at York Theatre Royal from 16th Feb to 3rd March and will then tour until 26th May.

TSOTA: How did you get involved in adapting Graham Greene’s novel for the stage?
BL: 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 novels because I don’t feel any infinity with them.

TSOTA: How well did you know Brighton Rock?
BL: I read the book a long time ago. I have 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.

TSOTA: Why adapt Brighton Rock for the stage?
BL: 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

TSOTA: How much collaboration was there with director Esther Richardson in shaping the adaptation?
BL: 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?’.

TSOTA: You’ve adapted a number of novels for the stage – what is your approach?
BL: 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.

TSOTA: Do you have a particular theatre in mind when writing?
BL: Not a particular theatre or space. But when I am writing anything I somehow have the space of the play in my head, the landscape of the play, the dimensions of the stage and the possibilities. That’s why I love doing adaptations, turning it from a book into something actors long to invigorate. But it’s not limiting myself to a particular concrete theatre.

TSOTA: What’s the difference between an original play and an adaptation?
BL: 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.

Catch this exciting stage adaptation at York Theatre Royal from 16th February to 3rd March.