Malorie Blackman’s young adult novel that tackles racial discrimination head-on as it creates a world where black people are the most powerful race. It’s an eye-opening and startling piece of theatre that mirrors race and power in our modern lives.
It’s a Romeo and Juliet style story, as we follow Sephy a ‘Cross’ who is part of the wealthy and elite Hadley family and Callum a ‘Nought’ from a family who are struggling to get by. Their parallel lives couldn’t be further apart but they spark a friendship that develops into a captivating love story.
This new adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz for Pilot Theatre is a gripping and vital piece of theatre. It’s a hefty book but Sabrina manages to take us swiftly through the story whilst maintaining the intensity and pace. Told in the novel from two different perspectives in alternating chapters, Mahfouz manages to weave them into one. Esther Richardson’s direction is superb as she uses physical theatre to transform simple staging into numerous locations and time zones.
Heather Agyepong gives an astounding performance as Sephy. She captures the complexity of growing up as Sephy evolves from a naive teenage to a strong young woman. Agyepong’s honest and direct portrayal forms a connection with the audience as she takes them on her journey growing up. Billy Harris is charming as Callum. We watch him filled with hope and aspiration until he is beaten down by the severe discrimination and starts to question his purpose. Juggling his loyalty to Sephy and his family, he finds himself tied.
I’d forgotten quite how dark the book is and the stage adaptation verges on harrowing, but it’s such an important story to tell. It’s a real eye-opener as it allows you to see the racism that is still happening today and the effect it has on people’s lives.
Designer Simon Kelly and Lighting Designer Joshua Drualus Pharo create a dynamic design that lifts the otherwise black box theatre into this other world through innovative lighting and digital screens. Whether it’s a flash of breaking news, a shadow of a character or a huge bomb explosion, all these moments are handled incredibly delicately to make them excellently effective.
There is a really poignant and resonant moment towards the end as Callum says to imagine a world where white people had more power, which put the times we live in today into real reflection. Malorie Blackman is famously known to say that her greatest wish is for her novel to no longer be relevant, but this striking production proves that unfortunately, we still have so far to go.
Noughts and Crosses is a thought-provoking and compelling production that is cleverly constructed and puts great emphasis on the sheer amount of work that needs to be done in order to tackle racial prejudice and discrimination.
On at the Belgrade Theatre until Sat 30 Mar before continuing on tour, tickets and information can be found on the website.