Pilot Theatre’s latest adaptation, with a subject suddenly thrown in to national attention, is strong all rounder carried in particular by their ever-innovative staging and one of the best individual performances I’ve seen.
One thing virtually every theatre company aspires to be is “current”, “urgent”, or one of the many other synonyms for topical. But, for all the lofty aspirations, this is surprisingly difficult to achieve. Most main stage productions are at least a year in planning. The issue that prompted you to commission a play is probably going to be long-since forgotten by the time it makes it to an audience. And in the event it is still being talked about, you are probably going to find yourself jostling for attention with another ten groups all saying the same thing as you. Nine times out of ten, you’re better off forgetting about trying to tap into trends and just do something that stands up in its own right. Unless, of course, you end up topical by accident, as happened here. When Pilot Theatre announced The Bone Sparrow (another back adaptation, this time with the original from Zena Fraillon and adapted by S.Shakthidharan), the topic of refugees was an ongoing issue but there was no particular thing bringing the matter to the fore. Now, however … well, I don’t need to tell you what changed.
The setting of The Bone Sparrow is quite far from home though. Priti Patel hasn’t exactly endeared herself to a suddenly refugee-sympathetic public, but few things are more notorious than the immigrant detention camps in Australia. Supporters of these camps will probably argue that Australia cannot be expected to single-handedly house half the world’s refugees, but a less charitable interpretation, as explored in this play, is that it’s a game of buck-passing. By trying to make your conditions for immigrants more infamous than the rest of Asia and Oceania, refugees will opt to go somewhere else instead, were it not for the fact that all other would-be safe countries are doing the same, and you get a race to the bottom. But this is not a comment piece on the merits of immigration policies, this is the place for a theatre review.
Pilot Theatre’s latest adaptation of a young adult book is has a narrower appeal than their usual productions, but it deserves to finish the job with the audience this play is aimed at.
The final play on my pre-lurgi catch-up list is a Pilot Theatre production. Pilot Theatre have earned my respect over successive productions for many reasons, but the biggest stand-out is the staging. It varies from play to play, but whatever they do always impresses in a way they’ve never impressed before. The subject material varies as well; last year’s Noughts and Crosses was packaged as an ordinary story of forbidden love but was in fact set an alternate world where Jim Crow laws exist in reverse. Crongton Knights, it turns out, is almost the opposite, packaged as a story of adventure and friendship akin to The Magnificent Seven (with the friends here self-styled as “The Magnificent Six”), but with the setting being a gritty housing estate in South London.
Adapted from the second of Alex Wheatle’s young adult books, five young friends embark on a mission to confront the ex-boyfriend of one of the gang to demand the return of some compromising photos. In an unfortunate twist of timing, this is the day the London riots are destined to break out, but this doesn’t actually feature much in the story. This is because although they live in the notoriously rough South Crong, they must journey to Notre Dame estate,and a typical night there makes the London Riots look like a picnic in the park. Can they make it with nothing but friendship and loyalty on their side.
Crongton Knights is a heavily character-driven story. One of the strongest themes is Bushkid. You see, this is the origin story of the Magnificent Six. Whilst the rest of the gang come from families struggling on the breadline, she lives comfortably with wealthy parents – but what she want more than anything is to fit in with friends. One character I would liked to have known more about was Saira. She is a Syrian refugee whose father is still missing, and one suspects she’s witnessed far worse horrors than anything a sink estate can muster. It would have been interesting to see how she’d react in a situation she’s desensitised to, but that doesn’t really feature in this story. Maybe the next book.
Sabrina Mahfouz’s adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s young adult novel is an intricate yet accessible depiction of a racially divided world that might have been.
I don’t normally start a review with a spoiler warning, but if you’ve already decided to see this play and you don’t know about the Noughts and Crosses series, I advise you to stop reading now. Pilot Theatre advertised this play as tale of forbidden love in a world of racial tension, but they deliberately omitted one important bit of information about what sort of world this is. The revelation comes in the opening scene – it won’t spoil the scene, let alone the rest of the play, if you know what it is, but it’s better if you don’t.
However, a review of Noughts and Crosses that doesn’t tell you what the Noughts and Crosses are is like a review of The Matrix that doesn’t tell you what the Matrix is. I would not be possible to talk about the many merits of both the story and the adaptation without telling you what Pilot Theatre isn’t telling you; so, in the style of the news just before match of the day, if you want to find out in the play, look away now. Continue reading →
The one thing that sticks in my mind about Pilot Theatre more than anything is their striking sets. Directors and writers change, but the projections and running treadmill in The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner and the concrete flats in The Season Ticket have always stuck in my mind. So I was expecting something striking for Brighton Rock, but the choice, in retrospect, was the obvious one: Brighton Pier – or, more accurately the West Pier, back in the days when it was still a pier. The girder-themed West Pier is the better choice here, because, as Pilot Theatre plays always do, this set will be representing a lot of different locations around gang-ridden 1930s Brighton.
An early example of the set put to use is the chase. Fred, having fallen out of favour with his own gang, keeps moving, trying to stay where people are watching, and even attempts an impromptu courting of Ida. Alas, Ida is too slow to twig what’s really happening, and the minute she spends away from Fred to powder her nose is the minute his gang move in for the kill. With young Pinkie installing himself as the new leader, he then covers his tracks, but a careless mistake make by Spicer leaves a witness, a waitress called Rose. Pinkie opts to court her, and if necessary, marry her so she legally cannot testify against him.* By now, however, Pinkie is up against Ida, determined to make it up to Fred, and determined to protect innocent Rose. But does anyone know what Rose really wants? Continue reading →