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Review: NOUGHTS AND CROSSES, Richmond Theatre

Review: NOUGHTS AND CROSSES, Richmond Theatre

Malorie Blackman's hit novel is brought to life in this touring production.

Review: NOUGHTS AND CROSSES, Richmond Theatre In 2001, Malorie Blackman published her 50th novel, Noughts and Crosses. The book "introduces readers to an alternative reality in which white-skinned people, the Noughts, and dark-skinned people, the Crosses, are segregated, with the Crosses having more power in society." Within this dystopia, two teenagers, Callum, a Nought and Sephy, a Cross, fall in love. Much like the ill-fated Romeo and Juliet, their burgeoning romance seems set to destroy them.

The novel became widely popular, selling over 1.7 million copies. More recently, it became part of the UK GCSE syllabus. As a result, it's hardly surprising that there have been various media iterations of the book in recent years, including two stage plays, a radio drama and a BBC adaptation.

This adaption, written by Sabrina Mahfouz, is produced by Pilot Theatre Company, whose work seeks to "interrogate the big ideas that are relevant to our lives right now". Blackman's work is an excellent source text for this, wherein the pages of her original novel still sting with relevancy despite the book being written over 20 years ago. Yet, in its transformation from page to stage, this production seems to lose its bite.

Noughts and Crosses is geared toward younger audiences, with the intention of instilling important lessons on racial equality, injustice and doing the right thing. However, here it feels too on-the-nose. Teenagers in the audience have spent the past few years reading about, watching or even attending Black Lives Matter protests, or hearing similar stories on the news. The allegories and messages conveyed on stage are, quite simply, lessons they have already learned. While there are powerful moments within the production, it seems a bit of a missed opportunity to really open up a dialogue.

As mentioned previously, the story follows the lives of Sephy and Callum. Childhood friends, whose encounters were always shrouded in secrecy until Callum is allowed, for the first time in history, to join a Nought's school. While Callum has hopes that his inclusion will spark positive change, playground politics take on a whole new level in a way that changes his sunny outlook forever.

As years progress, Sephy and Callum shed their innocence, and their world views - once so similar send them on completely different paths. Sephy to a private boarding school where she educates herself on how to advocate for change, Callum to a group fighting for his freedom.

A talented ensemble cast work to bring the story to life, managing to find moments of light within a heavy subject matter. Effie Ansah (Sephy) and James Arden (Callum) share a sense of naivety and innocence that makes their depiction of a coming-of-age relationship all the more believable. Daniel Copeland and Emma Keele give standout performances as Callum's parents - a couple who only want what is best for their children and their future but have varying different opinions on how to get it. Similarly compelling is National McCloskey, who plays Callum's brother, Jude.

While it could definitely pack more of a punch, there are merits to the production. Set design from Simon Kenny creates a lurking, oppressive atmosphere, which is elevated nicely by lighting design from Ben Cowens throughout the production.


Overall, Noughts and Crosses feels like a great place to start conversations, as opposed to teaching an overarching lesson.

Noughts and Crosses is at the Richmond Theatre until October 1, then touring

 


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