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Tuesday 18 February 2020

Interview: Playwright Emteaz Hussain Talks Multiculturalism & The Message At The Heart Of Theatre Royal Brighton-Bound Crongton Knights

"The story is about people coming together and how we are stronger together than apart, that's the message," says author Alex Wheatle, of Crongton Knights, which heads to Theatre Royal Brighton, in March. 
Credit Robert Day

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 book has now been adapted by playwright Emteaz Hussain and is being brought to the stage by York-based Pilot Theatre for a national tour.

The production, is led by artistic director Esther Richardson who has worked with the company previously, writing the script for the national tour of Outsiders.

Below Emteaz Hussain (playwright) talks about her involvement in Crongton Knights:

Q/ How did you come to adapt the novel?

Emteaz Hussain (EH): Esther (Richardson, Pilot artistic director) asked me to read it and would I consider adapting it, so off I went and read it and I 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. 

It's about white working-class people, black people, Asian people, all different people living in a city together and that"s something I can relate to and something I don't see written so well very often. I thought 'this is great, I really want to get under the skin of this.

Q/ How do you go about adapting the novel?

(EH): It takes drafts and work. It's a big and award-winning book, but the thing I was really struck and compelled by was the moment they go on a quest and a journey, they try to help each other, and I thought that's such a great message. 

I was always struck by the journey and the quest. That for me, quite instinctively is what I thought the play needed to be. 

The book is't just about the quest, it's never named that in the book, no-one says 'oh, we're going on a quest' and actually there's a lot about McKay, the main character and his life and perspective before they go on the quest. 

I wanted to show, as Alex has shown in the book that you are not alone as young people because you have each other. You have to back each other up because out there you're on your own, that"s what they learn on the quest. 

Q/ You've put your own stamp on it haven't you?

(EH): Yes, I've made one character in the book a girl and I've shifted the perspective a little.

In the book it's about McKay trying to help a girl called Venetia and I've shifted the
perspective so there's more of her on the stage than there is in the book. 

Telling the girls stories a little more is important to me. I think in some ways that's what Esther wanted me to do, bring a female perspective. 

You already have Alex's brilliant voice and I add my perspective to that.

Q/ The multiculturalism in the story is important, isn't it?

(EH): The message at the heart of the story is that we are more similar than different. We need each other and need to find ways to overcome our differences and be there for each other because if we don't were in big trouble. 

That's the massive message in terms of a multicultural story that is important, if we don't overcome differences and be there for each other than society is incredibly divisive and we have, lo and behold Brexit. Sorry, that's my political persuasion coming out.

Q/ What's it like to adapt something that already exists?

I think a lot about my relationship to the book in terms of being an adapter, the idea
of the story being filtered through me as a writer. 

First of all, I have to like the book myself, I can"t just take on board what everyone else thinks about it. 

Not only do I like it, I have a lot of respect for the book and in particular Alex's lyricism. His big heartedness, there's a big beating heart in that book and I love that. In terms of how to adapt a book that everybody loves, well I feel the same, you know, I love it too.

That"s why I'm doing it, I'm with all those young readers who love it, even though I'm not young, I'm as passionate about the story as they are. 

For me, that's how I feel, if it wasn't, I don't know how I could do it.

Q/ You've brought beatboxing into the story too?

(EH): We're very lucky to have Conrad (Murray, who leads the BAC Beatboxing Academy), who is a big deal and a great, award winning beatboxer. 

I met him when we workshopped the script at the National and he absolutely loved the story. 

I'm a poet and a big fan of rhythms so even though I'm not a beatboxer, I can see how the rhythms affect the story. It's really exciting.

Q/ It's an impressive team?

(EH): It's great to be surrounded by passionate people, we all feel really passionate about working class, multicultural stories that's what gets us. 

And it's great when its written that well and we're all behind it.

Crongton Knights will be at Theatre Royal Brighton from Wednesday 4th – Saturday 7th March 2020. CLICK HERE for tickets.

by: Mike Cobley & Nick Ahad


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