How to Start a Knife Gang

image: @jj.waller

How to Start a Knife Gang
Blood In, Blood Out

by Jonathan Brown

our new Bruntwood-longlisted  play about knife gangs, love and family.

Top 20% of plays submitted, Verity Bargate Award 2022
“…championed by a number of readers on the reading team, and reached the later stages of the competition, incredibly impressed” Gillian Greer, Literary Manager


How to Start a Knife Gang
…combines the high intensity interspersed multilayered verbal dialogue of SU’s  The Last Lunch, (Best New Play, New Writing South 2012), the pacey energy reminiscent of Trainspotting mingled with the vibrancy of hip hop beats, touching on the issues surrounding diverse communities, battling with expectations, ambition, poverty, identity, issues of masculinity, and self betterment.

Performances 5th-26th October @ The Cockpit, Marylebone

& Free Workshops for Young People 31 Aug – 29 Sept @ DanceWest Studios, Fulham
(Workshop Info & Sign up Click Here)

Longlisted: The Bruntwood Prize 2019

“…powerful, gripping, touching… “ Giulia Menichelli, writer/performer

“…a powerful performance, with wonderful acting.”  Maya Cockburn, artist

“…an outstanding piece of work about gang culture, knife crime, racial divides and moments of childhood shame that you never truly shake off” Brad Glen, actor

2024 Actors:


Emma Bakare plays Carol               Helen Ajayi plays Shania            Rowan Armitt-Brewster plays Bragg


                     Moyosola plays Book                     Jez Davess-Humphrey plays Flint             Magdalene Mills plays Chantal


                                        Nicholas Clarke plays Danny                          Jonathan Brown plays Angel   

About the play….

Meet Flint, an excluded teen, starting to deal on the streets, elevate his status with weapon upgrades, and get back into the good books of old childhood sweetheart, Book.
Meet Book, a studious teen, babysitter for Flint’s younger sister, keen to exit the deprivation of her road, study her way to become a surgeon, move to the suburbs, and keep clear of the skanky Flint, who’s def gonna bring her chances… down.
Meet Bragg, street dealer, a boy beyond redemption, egging on young crew member Flint to ever deeper commitment to the fam, to higher value sales, and to proving his colours by not just carrying a shank, but using it… properly.
Meet Shania, pregnant teen, friend to Book, and member of Bragg’s crew. How Shania was initiated into the gang, holds the food, and meets the dealers is nothing to some of what she’s witnessed. Now, she doesn’t sleep.
Meet Chantal, put-upon single mother to Flint and Akasha. She worries about Flint, never sees him, but isn’t about to easily let Flint’s dad back into his life.

Meet Danny, Childline listener, outreach worker, gardener in the suburbs, former dealer, gang member, convict and estranged father to Flint. Danny’s on a journey back to his son. Will he find Flint before Flint loses himself?
Meet Carol,  outreach & youth worker and girlfriend to Danny. Carol hears the worst of people’s stories and maybe about to experience the worst excesses of Shania’s baby’s father.
Meet Angel, gangland chief, and Andrew-Tate-esque psycho anti-mentor. He’ll initiate all his boys and girls into the tribe and hold them close with disturbing gratification. Angel’s about to invite Flint round for darjeeling tea, to elevate his sales techniques, and help him with a monsta weapons upgrade.

How to Start a Knife Gang is about friendship, loyalty, gang culture, family & knife crime..
Although the project revolves around text, we again wish to include visceral dance, music & physicality.

The Project has two strands:

(i) Performance: @ The Cockpit in Oct 2024 (TICKETS HERE)

(ii) Community Engagement:

We are:…

We’re working with Street  dance teacher / choreographer Sunanda Biswas , and working with live musician Fred Hills


Our Partners include….

The Ben Kinsella Trust who are going to provide an immersive site based Knife Crime workshop to our outreach participants at in-kind rates and offer consultancy.
Penificent who are going to provide a graphic novel/comic-based Knife Crime & Mental Health workshop to our outreach participants  at in-kind rates, and offer consultancy.
Sunanda Biswas @ Grounded Movement: Youth Dance Partnership, who’ll co-facilitate our workshops.
Fred Hills our onstage live musician(s)
And…  from these orgs that are daily dealing with Youth & Gang Culture, Knife Crime and related issues….
The Antoin Akpom Achievement Foundation,
Academy Achievers,
Out of the Shadows,
Music Relief Foundation,
…. Consultation advice, workshop-population help, and potential workshop space provision

Brighton Youth Offending Team: Consultants / County Lines issues
Laura Graham Clarke (early additional script consultancy)
With deep thanks to our early 2019 rehearsed reading actors…

Ben Cawley, Nicole Acquah, William Neam, Laura Graham Clarke, Vanessa Cruikshank, Brad Glen,

Selected: for the “Pitch Up” Event  @ The Place, London, 2019, hosted by Farnham Maltings & House Theatre Org.

Rehearsed Reading: Lewes, Sept 2019.

Rehearsed Reading, Fitzroy House, Lewes.





For those venues feeling very ambitious…

Young, Gifted and Backstage

Young, Gifted and Backstage” is a second, parallel play, played simultaneously, with the same cast, in an adjacent auditorium, & that features the backstage machinations of the cast from “The Widening Pool “, touching upon the survival of creative arts in the pandemic, BLM issues, cancel culture, the 2020 US elections, creative competition, love & trauma, & an insight into the intense rapport an ensemble develops over time.

Written by Jonathan Brown during the pandemic, “Young, Gifted and Backstage” simultaneously reveals the backstage life of the cast of The Widening Pool , with forays into race identity during the BLM upsurge, middle-class creatives fuelling the drug crisis, tragic misuse of stage prop weapons, cancel culture, battles with our creativity, theatre during covid, alongside love and trauma.

Young, Gifted and Backstage features the same cast as in The Widening Pool but now we see them as the actors, backstage, between scenes of , and so with different characters.  They come back stage excited or annoyed after each scene from The Widening Pool they squabble, they celebrate, they bitch, they laugh, they worry, they talk about what’s happening on stage, or about the actors who are out there. Then they disappear again to their next scene in The Widening Pool, to be replaced by the actors who have just been on and a new round begins.

Young, Gifted and Backstage” has now also received a successful  online Zoom rehearsed reading in January 2021, and has now reached a 6th draft.

“…really excellent, gripped by the whole thing.  Well done all of you.” Penny Melville Brown, OBE.

“…I really enjoyed watching your play.  The cast are incredible, I didn’t disconnect a minute, very engaging. Thank you.” Nuria Calucho Junca, writer, actor.

“…Thanks for the invite Jonathan. Loved it, More power to you all!”  Bill Horrocks.

Meet Vinny, a gay young man (plays Flint in “The Widening Pool”), torn between impressing his impresario father and being taken seriously as “black enough” by his colleagues, especially those that have been getting themselves along to BLM rallies and events. Vinny joins others of his young cast in being terrified of risking being “cancelled”.

Meet Agatha, a young, gifted and black woman (plays Book in “The Widening Pool”), keen to be taken seriously as an actor and writer herself. She is completely self assured, knows her lines perfectly, but… might have a crush on an older member of the ensemble.

Meet Will a keen young actor, (plays Bragg in “The Widening Pool”) who likes a surreptitious smoke of da weed. He’s been getting over enthusiastic in the scenes where he plays violent, and the women have been noticing it. Will he hear their feedback? Can he kick old habits?

Meet Nat, (plays Shania in “The Widening Pool”) not fully out the closet yet, as far as one of the others in the cast is concerned, but she’s been putting more into the recent BLM movement than into finding work, having half given up on her career. Alongside Will, Book and Vinny, she’s terrified of not being fully PC on stage, facing cancel culture, and together they’ve tried to sanitise the script. Is Nat reliable? Will she bail?

Meet Ira, (plays Chantal in “The Widening Pool”) a bitter woman, she’s been in too many soaps to feel she needs to listen to any half-arsed and inexperienced stage directors. She dishes out the directorial and barbed comments left, right and centre, and enjoys what’s in her “water” bottle just that bit too much.

Meet Brad, (plays Danny in “The Widening Pool”) another TV soap regular who’s forgotten how to do stage work and is very nervous. He’s happy with the script, but not with how fast and furious the action comes, and with no second takes.

Meet Carol, (plays Carol in “The Widening Pool”), She’s fielding barbed comments from Ira, seeming sexual rivalry from a younger colleague, and deep insecurity that she only got the part cos she’s banging the boss.

Meet Tom, (plays Angel in “The Widening Pool”)  who’s wearing waaaay too many hats, including writer, director, actor, producer and lover. Everyone expects him to be perfect, except perhaps Ira, and mostly he stays calm, keeps all the plates up in the air, and even manages to remember his lines on cue. But when he’s pushed to the brink…. he snaps.

Schools Package