“Tonight’s been a drama-overload,” observes one of the “magnificent six” in Crongton Knights. She is not exaggerating: Emteaz Hussain’s adaptation of Alex Wheatle’s award-winning young adult novel chronicles an evening steeped in gang violence and fraternal tension – and sprinkled with rap.
In Corey Campbell and Esther Richardson’s playfully ambitious production, we meet six teenagers living in the fictional council estate of South Crongton. In an act of solidarity, they embark on a risky journey to another estate in order to retrieve a phone that contains intimate images belonging to one of them. The stakes are high, because this is a world where ending up in the wrong neighbourhood can be a matter of life and death.
Surrounded by railings and covered in graffiti, Simon Kenny’s revolving cube set evokes the numerous locations traversed by the six questers, who are played with care by a high-spirited ensemble.
There are particularly memorable performances by Nigar Yeva as Saira, a Turkish girl bubbling with hidden sorrow, and by Aimee Powell as Venetia, whose stolen phone triggers the story. Olisa Odele is also remarkable in his upbeat take on the central character McKay.
With its fair share of beatboxing and soulful songs, the production benefits consistently from brisk movement direction and Richard G Jones’ astute lighting design; however the musical numbers appear to have been integrated to the play clumsily, making it feel slightly drawn-out.
At its best, though, Crongton Knights knows how to move its audience with its earnest questioning of friendship, loss and bloodshed.