STAGE: Crongton Knights – Theatre Royal, York ★★★★☆

Emteaz Hussain’s adaptation of Alex Wheatle’s superb novel Crongton Knights, hits all the right notes in world premiere staging at the York Theatre Royal.

Alex Wheatle’s Crongton Knights, written in 2017, is a story about overcoming the challenges of youth on the South Crongton estate. The award winning novel trilogy, has been transformed onto the stage by Pilot Theatre in association with Belgrade Coventry and it’s glaringly obvious that this adaptation is nothing short of a triumph for the stage.

Under Corey Campbell and Esther Richardsons directorship, tells the story of “the magnificent six” on their mission to retrieve a phone, Crongton Knights is a journey, a risky journey in which the six young adults encounter challenge after challenge, all of which are 100% relatable to the horror news stories we hear every day in London right now.

There are some real standout performances in the first half, namely Khai Shaw and Olisa Odele (Mackay) who bring comedy to a story that has much tension and angst. The genius of the show though comes in the decision to appoint Conrad Murray to compose the score; from the start of the show, the cast descend into beatboxing brilliance and the musical soundscape created by the actors makes the show ascend to heights and reduce to dramatic lows in ways it wouldn’t have with a full band.

The staging, developed by Simon Kenny, fits this youth, beatboxing, concept perfectly with a revolving cube offering scene changes including garages, on the bus and at a rave type scenes. It’s this combination of an excellent score and fantastic staging that make Crongton Knights so engaging. What Emteaz Hussain has done is bring to life a tale of difficulty and youth to the stage in a believable way; the humour from Odele’s “Mackay” talking cooking tips right down to Nigar Yeva’s (Saira) character struggling with the disappearance of her father – every element of the novel has been considered and it’s a joy to watch.

Photo Credit: Duncan Smith

Whether it was the sound in the first half or a nervousness on stage, there were times where the songs themselves had small flaws. I couldn’t make out several lyrics when the rapping was dense; but when the tempo dropped, the vocals, especially of Aimee Powell as Venetia, the central character, the score was phenomenal in moments. Special mention must also be made for Kate Donnachie (Bushkid) whose solo performances and energy, make the second half as strong as it is; at times the story is lost in part two, but she makes the story move and adds a different dimension to the other five.

The pace of Crongton Knights is spot on too, and between scenes, you empathise with different characters in different moments which makes it a dynamic show to watch for the audience. As someone who hasn’t read the novel, there are twists and turns that are unexpected and I was energised to see out the end of the tale.

All things considered, theatrically this is a brilliant show; where it falls down at times with the volume and speed of the vocals and the storytelling, which does get lost a bit in the second half; it is more than made up for with some standout acting performances and exceptional staging.

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