Crongton Knights

Emteaz Hussain, based on the novel by Alex Wheatle
Pilot Theatre, Belgrade Theatre, Derby Theatre and York Theatre Royal
York Theatre Royal

Nigar Yeva (Saira), Aimee Powell (Venetia), Zak Douglas (Bit), Kate Donnachie (Bushkid) and Olisa Odele (McKay) Credit: Robert Day
Kate Donnachie (Bushkid) Credit: Robert Day
The cast Credit: Robert Day

Adapted from Alex Wheatle’s prize-winning YA novel, Crongton Knights is a dynamic beatbox musical that combines urban realism with a ripping adventure narrative.

Inspired by Wheatle’s experience of working with young people in South London, Crongton Knights focuses on a sextet of teenage misfits—the self-titled ‘Magnificent Six’—who venture into the dangerous Notre Dame estate in order to retrieve a stolen mobile phone. The phone in question belongs to Venetia (Aimee Powell), who worries that her spiteful ex-boyfriend will upload inappropriate photos of her onto social media as an act of revenge.

Esther Richardson, who co-directed the show with Corey Campbell, has likened the production to The Goonies (1985) and Stand by Me (1986)—classic films about childhood quests—but the film that sprang to my mind was Walter Hill’s cult movie The Wanderers (1979), which also charts a street gang’s journey through inhospitable terrain in a desperate bid to return home.

Crongton Knights represents the second collaboration between Pilot Theatre, Belgrade Theatre, Derby Theatre and York Theatre Royal, who staged a striking production of Marjorie Blackman’s 2001 novel Noughts and Crosses last year, and the results are mostly impressive.

Emteaz Hussain’s adaptation preserves the narrative drive and vibrant characters of the original novel, and Conrad Murray’s score is filled with impressive musical moments. That being said, there were occasions where the actors’ impeccable beatboxing was drowned out by the sheer volume of the music.

There are strong performances all round from the eight-person ensemble. Aimee Powell brings strength and vulnerability to the part of Venetia, and Nigar Yeva is appealingly scrappy as Saira. Zak Douglas is suitably diffident as Bit, who is infatuated with Venetia, and Khai Shaw is funny and touching as insecure Jonah. Dale Mathurin and Simi Egbejumi-David impress in a number of smaller roles, including authority figures and outright villains.

Olisa Odele deserves special praise for his vibrant turn as McKay, a food obsessive with a flair for dance, and he is matched by Kate Donnachie, who is delightfully odd as the outcast Bushkid.

Simon Kenny’s rotating set, covered in eye-catching graffiti, injects warmth and energy into the production whilst also providing a versatile performance space.

There are occasions where the production’s focus on courage and friendship feels a bit preachy, and the show is a bit too long at 140 minutes. For me, however, these minor gripes were overtaken by the production’s youthful bravado.

I’ve no doubt that Richardson and Campbell’s lively, fast-paced production will go down a treat with young audiences.

Reviewer: James Ballands

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