Review: Crongton Knights, York Theatre Royal

Crongton Knights transforms the inner city into a vibrant fairy tale, full of knights, steeds and quests to save a damsel in distress, but with any fairy tale it has its dark roots. Based on the book by Alex Wheatle this tale, that explores the harsh realities of knife crime, gang violence and the hardships faced by inner city kids, has been turned into a bright, loud and poignant educational piece that explodes onto the stage. Bursting with rhythm and rap the company draw you into their castles, friendships and secrets.  

The Crongton Knights crew, led by Olisa Odele in the role of McKay, form the ‘magnificent six’ as we follow them on their quest to retrieve Venitas’ phone from the dangerous Notre Dame estate. Odele leads the group with ease as his excellent comic timing lightens the stage even in the show’s darkest moments. Paired with Khai Shaw as Jonah and Zac Douglas as Bit, the camaraderie and boyish banter between them is beautiful, utterly relatable and reminiscent of the lads I knew in sixth form. As they team up with Aimee Powell as Venita and Nigar Yeva as Saira we watch them experience violent threats and real-life dangers, that populate our headlines and our streets. The six’s reactions to the violence around them is raw, showing the true impact gangs have on communities and the pain they can cause as well as how friendship can start to combat it. 

Vocal beats, dissonant harmony and original music form a huge element of this show with the vocal strength of Kate Donnachie as Bushkid, Dale Mathurin as Nesta/ensemble and Simi Egbejumi-David as Festus/ensemble shining through throughout. Unfortunately, this vocal strength wasn’t on an equal level from the entire cast, which isn’t aided by the mixing of some numbers bringing the background beats louder than the leading vocals, losing lines and exposition. This mix of exceptional sections of performance and more average scenes continued throughout the show providing an overall good performance from the entire company. However, specific stand out moments came with the multi-roling talents of White and Egbeiumi-David in their ensemble roles. They seamlessly switch between comedic presentations of parents to hard, violent gang leaders, altering everything about their physicality’s to create unique and distinct characters. To watch these changes, as well as their slick movement between scenes, is a joy itself.

Crongton Knights is an important and enjoyable piece that explores gangs, knives and guns sensitively. Its vibrant beats, comedic characters and moments of darkness root the tale in reality, educating us all on the real life impact the stories we see on the news has on inner city kids. After a four-week rehearsal period the original music, movement and beats are poignant not polished, but impactful, fun and vibrant. 

Crongton Knights played at York Theatre Royal until 29/02/2020. For more information, go to York Theatre Royal website.