“The story is about people coming together and how we are stronger together than apart, that’s the message.”
Crongton Knights was published in 2016, won the Guardian Children Fiction’s Prize that same year, was shortlisted for the YA Book Prize the following year and has become ever more relevant in the time since.
“The story is about people coming together and how we are stronger together than apart, that’s the message,” said Crongton Knights author Alex Wheatle.
The book has now been adapted by playwright Emteaz Hussain and is being brought to the stage by York-based Pilot Theatre.
The production, which tours from February to May is being created by Pilot alongside York Theatre Royal, Belgrade Theatre Coventry and Derby Theatre. Pilot is led by artistic director Esther Richardson who will co-direct Crongton Knights with Artistic Director of Strictly Arts Theatre Company Corey Campbell.
Crongton Knights adapter Emteaz Hussain has worked with the company previously, writing the script for the national tour of Outsiders. She said: “When Esther asked if I would consider adapting it off, I went and read it and loved it.
“Having worked with Esther before I thought ‘I can see why she thinks I can do this’. I’m glad she had faith in me to do it because I just loved the way Alex had written this world of Crongton. Even though it’s fictional, I really related to it because it’s multicultural in an intelligent and intricate way.”
Wheatle’s novel tells the story of McKay, who lives on the South Crongton estate. Since his mum died his dad has been working all hours to keep the bailiffs from the door and his older brother is always out on the streets, tempting trouble. One night he heads out on a heroic mission to retrieve a girl’s mobile phone and finds himself facing crazed ex-boyfriends, hood rats on a power trip and violent gangsters.
Hussain knew quite quickly how she wanted to write the story.
She said: “I was struck by the journey and the quest. Quite instinctively I thought that was what the play needed to be about. The book isn’t only about the quest and at no point does a character say, ‘we’re going on a quest’, but that is what happens.
“What’s great is that on the quest they learn so much about themselves and each other. The message is that you are not alone as young people because you have each other. You have to back each other up because out there you are on your own if you don’t stand together, that’s what they learn on their journey.”
As minorities, both the author of the original novel Wheatle and adapter Hussain believe there is a need for stories featuring diverse characters on our stages, in books, in the stories we tell.
Hussain said: “It’s a black writer, an Asian adapter, a multicultural cast, a director in Esther who has done a lot of work in inner cities and multicultural communities; as a creative team we are really imbued with diversity.
“Theatre can be thought of as a middle class, white, middle aged arena. I hope because of the company we have, because of Alex and because of the story itself we will attract a diverse audience. Theatres have some work to do to bring in a younger and more multicultural audience, but there are artists and plays like this that are chipping away and trying to appeal to that audience, to bring young people in.
“We’ve got to just keep at it and keep telling these stories.”
Crongton Knights tours to York Theatre Royal Tuesday 25 February to Saturday 29 February.