Writer: Alex Wheatle
Adaptor: Emteaz Hussain
Directors: Esther Richardson and Corey Campbell
Venetia (Aimee Powell), a school-aged teenager from Crongton with a little too much attitude, has tried to break up with her older boyfriend but he doesn’t take to the news very well and steals her phone. Best friend Saira offers the obvious solution of simply buying Venetia a new one, but there’s one problem; the phone contained inappropriate pictures of Venetia and her ex-boyfriend is now threatening blackmail – she has to get it back. Meanwhile, fellow school friend Mckay discovers his older brother is in a spot of trouble with a rival estate’s gang after fighting with their leader, Festus – who stole his bike – and has gone into hiding; their other friend Bit – who would do anything for Venetia – is trying to hide a very big and dangerous secret while doing his best to persuade Mckay and, very reluctant, friend Jonah they must help solve Venetia’s problem; and to top it all off, tensions have reached breaking point and Crongton is in the midst of gang-led riots…
With the mission to get Vee’s phone back involving travelling through the ‘turf’ of several rival estates, the bus route travelling right through the riots, the group gaining a sixth member in the form of Bushy – a seeming liability on an electric bike – and a collective pot of £8.70 – will the Crongton Knights get out alive?
Based on the novel by Alex Wheatle, Crongton Knights is certainly heavy in terms of subject matter and the company do well not to completely trivialise it. It appeals to the younger generation with colourful graffiti art, impressive beatboxing and poetic rap yet mostly manages to impress the severity of both the situation the friends find themselves in and the goings-on around them.
Powell is no stranger to The Belgrade yet manages to show yet another side of her talents as Venetia, completely adopting the persona and wrapping us up in her plight; Kate Donnachie ensures all eyes are repeatedly on her with her loveable quirkiness as Bushy and blows us away with her vocal talents; and, adding heavy dollops of pizzazz to the mix, Olisa Odele oozes charisma as Mckay, dancing like Beyoncé and regularly having the audience in fits of laughter while firming our sympathies towards his character.
The whole ensemble provides the soundtrack using only their voices with captivating hummed, oohed and beatboxed melodies creating a hauntingly-beautiful atmosphere, while also taking turns showcasing their rap and song skills; the collective rapport is a pleasure to witness.
Crongton Knights is a refreshing example of what theatre for older children should be. Far away from the in-between land of pantomime and puppetry that doesn’t always do their interests justice, the show manages to both speak and entertain. There are moments where one might feel the consequences of such gang-related violence and poor decision making are a little glossed over but, overall, the moral messages just about come through the remarkable shows of talent that are on display. Pilot Theatre strikes again.
Runs until 22 February 2020