The Magnificent Six ride on as Pilot Theatre stream teen turf drama Crongton Knights

Nigar Yeva, left, Zak Douglas Aimee Powell, Olisa Odele and Khai Shaw in Pilot Theatre’s Crongton Knights. Picture: Robert Day

YORK company Pilot Theatre will webcast the online premiere of their 2020 co-production of Crongton Knights for free from April 22.

The webcast stream will start at 6.45pm that night when Esther Richardson and Corey Campbell’s Covid-19-curtailed production would have been opening its London run at Theatre Peckham.

Emteaz Hussain’s adaptation of Alex Wheatle’s award-wining young adult novel will be available to stream online at until Saturday, May 9, the day that the tour’s final curtain would have fallen at Theatre Peckham. 

To coincide with the webcast, Pilot, resident company at York Theatre Royal, will put online a series of talks and question-and-answer sessions with the creative team behind Crongton Knights.

The first Pilot Connects event will be a Q&A with the show’s composer and musical director, Conrad Murray, hosted by Pilot artistic director Esther Richardson on April 23 (time to be confirmed).        

Kate Donnachie, left, Nigar Yeva, Douglas Aimee, Olisa Odele and Khai Shaw in Crongton Knights. Picture: Robert Day

Performed at York Theatre Royal from February 25 to 29, Crongton Knights takes its audience on a night of madcap adventure as McKay and his friends, The Magnificent Six, encounter the dangers and ultimate triumphs of a mission gone awry.

In this story of how lessons learned the hard way can bring you closer together, the pulse of the city is brought to life on stage with a Conrad Murray soundscape of beatboxing and vocals laid down by the cast of Kate Donnachie; Zak Douglas; Simi Egbejumi-David; Nigar Yeva; Olisa Odele; Aimee Powell; Khai Shaw and Marcel White.

Wheatle, a writer born in London to Jamaican parents, said he was “very proud” of Pilot Theatre adapting his novel for the stage: “It’s a modern quest story where, on their journey, the young diverse lead characters have to confront debt, poverty, blackmail, loss, fear, the trauma of a flight from a foreign land and the omnipresent threat of gangland violence.

“The dialogue I created for this award-winning novel deserves a platform and I, for one, can’t wait to see the characters that have lived in my head for a number of years leap out of my mind and on to a stage near you.” And now on a webcast stream.

Co-director Esther Richardson said of the teen quest story: “For us, this play is a lens through which to explore the complexity of young people’s lives, open a platform for those concerns and show what they have to try to navigate fairly invisibly to other members of society. It’s the context in which they live that creates the problem, and these kids go under the radar.

Esther Richardson: Co-director of Crongton Knights and artistic director of Pilot Theatre. Picture: Robert Day

“Alex is writing about how the world is stacked against teenagers; how young people have been thrown to the dogs; how they to negotiate this No Man’s Land they live in, when their places have been closed down; their spaces to express themselves.

“They have been victims of austerity – as have disabled people – so it’s no surprise that there’s been a rise in knife crime, with kids on the streets and no youth workers to go to, to talk about their feelings.”

Crongton Knights is a co-production between Pilot Theatre, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Derby Theatre and York Theatre Royal, who last year formed – together with the Mercury Theatre, Colchester – a partnership to develop theatre for younger audiences.

During the four-year cycle, 2019 to 2022, the consortium will commission and co-produce four original mid-scale productions. 

Such co-productions are becoming all the more important against a backdrop of Esther being concerned by the cuts in arts funding and the potential negative impact of Brexit too. “Theatre is not seen as an opportunity to thrive in, especially in this post-Brexit landscape where it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” she predicted.

“That’s why we will further shift into co-creating pieces, Pilot creating work with communities, Pilot co-creating with teens, which we do already do, but we can do it better and do it more.”

For more information on forthcoming Pilot Connects events, visit

On yer bike: A tense stand-off in Crongton Knights

REVIEW: Crongton Knights, Pilot Theatre, York Theatre Royal, February 25 to 29

EVER since Lord Of The Flies, York Theatre Royal resident company Pilot Theatre have made theatre that speaks directly to young audiences.

Now, Pilot are in the second year of a four-year creative partnership with Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre, Derby Theatre and the Theatre Royal, their reach spreading ever wider.

Last year’s gripping adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s radical Noughts & Crosses is followed up by another topical story, Emteaz Hussain’s stage account of Crongton Knights, a young adult novel by Brixton Bard Alex Wheatle, a London writer of Jamaican parentage.

Co-directed by Corey Campbell, artistic director of Strictly Arts Theatre Company, and Pilot artistic director Esther Richardson, it is a play with music, not a musical, but has the punch of West Side Story, the exhilarating beatbox and vocal score by Conrad Murray setting the story’s pulsating rhythm.

The Crongton Knights of the title are the self-styled Magnificent Six, caught up at a young age in the gangland turf wars of the Crongton Estate, divided into “North Crong” and “South Crong”, their homestead.

Into the dangerous Notre Dame estate they venture on a teen quest, a mission to rescue the mobile phone of Venetia (Aimee Powell, the show’s best singer), in the possession of her ex-boyfriend with incriminating photographs she needs to erase.

Leading them is big-hearted McKay (Olisa Odele); alongside are Jonah (Khai Shaw), Bit (Zak Douglas), Saira (Nigar Yeva) and, along for the ride, and desperate to be their lookout, Bushkid (Kate Donnachie), on her bike.

What follows is a story of “lessons learned the hard way” at the hands of those more experienced, more streetwise, more ruthless, more desperate, as represented by Simi Egbejumi-David’s ensemble roles.

In Wheatle’s words, the Magnificent Six must “confront debt, poverty, blackmail, loss, fear, the trauma of a flight from a foreign land and the omnipresent threat of gangland violence”, but the tone is not suffocatingly grim. Even in a world stacked against teens, there is hope; there is positivity; above all there is the bond of friendship.

Pilot’s press release talked of a madcap adventure, and Simon Kenny’s graffiti-painted, rainbow-coloured, scaffolded set design plays to that spirit, especially when garage lock-up doors open up to show the Magnificent Six running in slow motion. Imagine a cartoon crossed with the black comedy drama of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting.

Not all the dialogue is as clear as it could be, and nor is the story’s passage, but the highly energised performances, especially by Odele and Powell, are terrific, and special praise goes to Dale Mathurin for stepping into the role of Nesta with only two hot-housed days of rehearsals.

Richard G Jones’s lighting and Adam P McCready’s sound design are important too, both complementing the urban wasteland of troubled teens trying to find their place when so much is barren.

Not the end for Crongton Knights: The tour had to be curtailed but now the Pilot Theatre co-production can be streamed online from April 22 to May 9

Review by Charles Hutchinson