Brighton’s got a new venue, right in the center of town. Or, more accurately, it has reclaimed an old favourite: a lot of people will recognise the gothic fronting of 11 Dyke Road, which was originally built as a school. If it looks a bit like a church, that’s because it was, for a while. Anyone lucky enough to be around in ‘69 will remember its transformation into “Sloopy’s Nightspot and Discotheque,” Brighton’s home of funk and soul records. Our generation knows it better under its various incarnations “Fozzy’s Club,” “The Shrine,” “Club New York,” “The Church” or “New Hero.”
The building’s long history as a venue was derailed in 2012 when it was briefly (and embarrassingly) converted into a horror-themed maze, “House of the Lost.” Thankfully, in 2014 this closed down, and the building was picked up by theatre company founder Roger Kay.
So in December 2014 the Rialto Theatre was born, and Brighton has reclaimed a venue once thought lost to sad and unconvincing horror. The theatre invited Soapbox down on Wednesday night to check out the new digs and watch Sin and Salvation: Musical Theatre’s not usually our focus, but the opening of a new venue is definitely our business, so we had a drink in the sophisticated ‘30’s themed Bacall’s Bar before taking our seats in the intimate amphitheatre.
Directed by Mark Brailsford, Sin and Salvation follows manipulative preacher Bobby Del La Ray and his attempt to bring a pay-per-view religious channel, G.O.D-T.V, to England. “You can’t sell the British something they don’t want on Sundays for free,” observes his naive partner Rex Bedderman, who doesn’t realise that Bobby has arranged the deal with the Sicilian Mafia as a money-laundering scam.
The channel is a devastating failure, so much so that the Mafia begin to lose their investment – family members are kidnapped, and their body parts sent in boxes. Faced with bankruptcy, the unscrupulous Bobby convinces the rest of the team that selling sex is the only way to save the channel. “the world must see sin in order to recognise it,” he reasons – and so God-porn comes to be.
Unsurprisingly, this is much more popular than the clean channel. The money rolls in, and with it, the power. Bobby starts a full-on cult, “the church of sin and salvation,” reasoning that in order for a soul to be saved, it first has to sin – thereby allowing the world to sin as they really want to.
The play charts Bobby’s rise to power at the head of a murderous cult, and how he convinces the other kind-hearted, but generally stupid, characters to follow him. The scenes of conflict are hugely entertaining and verge on the farcical: expect adultery by mistaken identity, self-flagellation, and divine inspiration delivered by a stun-gun.
The songs are well-written, tinged with a little rock and roll: Musical Director Mark Crossland struck a fine balance between traditional musical theatre and accessible, foot-tapping melodies. Daniel Beales and Claire Morrisey are seductively charismatic as the dark duo of Bobby and his partner-in-crime, Clarissa. Mike Holoway was a convincingly foolish and impressionable Rex. Melanie Gayle seemed to be feeling the nerves but nonetheless gave a strong portrayal of Desiree, the sceptic of the group and Rex’s love interest. However it was George Rae’s outrageous (and profane) Sicilian accent in his part as Luigi that won the audience.
We won’t give away the ending, but we can tell you that this play is funny and intelligent – well conceived, it is hugely entertaining and frivolous, while being serious, reflective – even philosophical. It’s not an easy balance to pull off, but writers the Heather Brothers managed it. Sin and Salvation will run until 25th April and is a steal at £8 concession (or £10). Buy tickets here.
Whether you see this particular play or not, we urge you to visit the Rialto to explore a new and vibrant live venue. If theatre isn’t your thing, look out for their live music, regular political satire The Treason Show, or live comedy. Hopefully this revamped venue will emerge as a solid and permanent part of Brighton’s culture scene – but we should all be aware that the Rialto’s success is not assured. You need only look around at some of Brighton’s old, abandoned venues to be reminded that you have to use it or lose it.
Photographs © Alia Halstead