Director Stephen Cookson takes us for a cool summer in Brighton, but one with much more on the menu than simply building sandcastles and sunbathing. Based on the 1991 play ‘Brighton Beach Scumbags’ by the acclaimed Steven Berkoff, this is an exploration of two generations of the same two couples that come together at two very different eras in society.
Two working-class couples unite in 2005 for a trip back to their favourite seaside resort. Dave and Doreen (Phil Davis and Lesley Sharp) and Derek and Dinah (Larry and Marion Bailey) met on the shores of Brighton in the mid 1960s. It was the time when sweethearts took to the dancefloor in sharp suits and dresses to swing to the latest rock and roll tune by Bobby Day. Young counterparts Jamie Bacon and Christopher Sparkles slap on the Teddy Boy look with brylcreem, and Phoebe Jones and Hana Stewart are the young ladies looking for an escape.
Shot across the seaside resort of Brighton in East Sussex, it’s full of the classic pebbled beaches, crying seagulls (“white pigeons”), shimmering waters, cans of pop and takeaway chips. There’s nothing as authentic as a seaside location in classic British summertime. It’s a very evident stage adaptation, with our four older leads carrying the story sat on the front in their deckchairs, intercut with flashbacks with their younger selves going through a number of both cheerful and uncomfortable life experiences.
The crux of this story contrasts a care-free rock n’ roll youth, compared to old age with health concerns and fragile relationships. It’s amusing to see the bickering friendship of these two couples, the “banter” covering everything from fashion, food, sex and holidays. Larry Lamb leads the charge with his East-end London accent and you can just see him radiating that Cockney charm representing an entire generation. However, these couples are from a time where everything was very different. Brighton was very different. The world was very different.
“Poofs”, “darkies”, “fat, wobbling lump”, “nonces” and “pakis” are just a few of the colourful words used by our couples as they sit watching the world go by and happily comment on the new social standing that they just don’t really understand. The tactful writing originally by Berkoff and now with Cookson means that our couples are never offensive to the audience, but evidently ignorant to the world they live in, especially to the changing culture around them in Brighton. For example, 60+ year old men ogling young girls sunbathing feels normal to them living in the past, but as the girls exclaim loudly; perverts!
Undercut with a side-story about Dave and Doreen and some personal pain linked to the town help keep you wondering and guessing what went on, with Lesley Sharp showing some wonderful vulnerability at times. Our four leads (eight with the youngsters) are a great mix of talent and bring their characters to life perfectly in ways you can really understand.
A cheerful and at times sombre score by Gary Yershon captures all eras of a the 60s, the 00s and the emotion in between perfectly. Being on location in Brighton adds nothing but British charm to this very British production, championing everything about the celebrated cultures and styles seen across the city even in the face of misguided ignorance. It’s not without consequence, however, delivered sharply with good writing and performances that resonate without being harrowing.
Brighton is a wonderful character study and reflective look at society both then and now, with great drama and humour in equal measure. It’s a true British day-out and as entertaining as a bag of chips by the beach.
Brighton is released on June 7th