Crongton, Coventry and coming-of-age: Corey Campbell and Esther Richardson discuss Crongton Knights
Fresh from the success of his immersive theatrical experience, Club 2B, over Christmas, the Belgrade Theatre’s 2021 Co-Artistic Director Corey Campbell is back with an innovative new show this February, this time teaming up with Pilot Theatre’s Artistic Director Esther Richardson.
In 2019, the pair collaborated on a sell-out staging of Noughts and Crosses. This year, they’ve turned their attention to another award-winning YA novel, bringing Alex Wheatle’s Crongton Knights to the stage for the very first time.
Beatboxing, humour and Campbell’s distinctive style of physical theatre are all central to this explosive coming-of-age adventure. Ahead of its opening, we spoke to the show’s co-directors to find out more.
“Crongton Knights is about a group of inner-city, working class young people from all different cultural backgrounds who go out on a mission to right a wrong,” explains Corey.
“It was described by Esther as ‘a fight against moral ambiguity’, which I really like, because these six young people are absolutely going out in their own minds and hearts to do the right thing, but as they step out into distant ends, as they say, they are met with some very real and very adult situations, and there’s a moral line that they end up crossing.”
“[Making work for young people] is a really important challenge because so little theatre is made with teenagers in mind,” adds Esther. “Or rather, there’s a lot of work that gets made that’s ‘on the syllabus’, but there isn’t a lot of art or theatre that gets made just for them, like a film might be made with that very specific audience in mind.
“Getting that audience into theatres is no easy task – particularly in this climate – but it’s a challenge that we’re really excited about.”
While the play deals with some very serious themes, however, they’re handled in a way that is often playful, creative and even funny, with a message of triumphing over adversity by working together and supporting each other.
What’s most remarkable about the characters in this story is their kindness, generosity and mutual respect: their attitudes towards each other aren’t tainted by the challenges each of them are facing in their home lives. As Corey puts it, “It’s not about them being innocent; it’s about the warmth and spirit of who they actually are.”
It’s a spirit that’s reflected in that of the acting company itself, who are helping to shape and devise the work through the rehearsal process. In particular, they’ve been working with beatboxer and composer Conrad Murray to develop a stylised soundscape, filled with original songs and pulsing with the sounds of the city.
If the likes of Club 2B and Noughts and Crosses are anything to judge by, Crongton Knights looks set to be a wholly unique and exciting experience for those who see it.
Crongton Knights is produced by the Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Pilot Theatre, Derby Theatre and York Theatre Royal. The show premieres at the Belgrade Theatre Coventry from 8-22 February 2020 before touring the UK.