From the renownedly skilled writer, Malorie Blackman, Noughts & Crosses has been adapted by Sabrina Mahfouz, from the book of the same name to a production currently touring the UK. Pilot Theatre strives to tackle complex themes while presenting them to a young adult audience, and this is an exemplar piece to reflect that.
Exploring the concept of reverse racism, the play is set surrounding two families: one being the 'noughts' and the other being 'crosses'. Divided in many ways- socially, culturally and racially- their societal segregation is often viewed as something that cannot be overcome from either side. However, Sephy (Effie Ansah) and Callum (James Arden) are desperately in love. Searching for hope of a better, more equal life comes with suffering and heartache, as a role not dared to be approached by many.
Minerva (Abiola Efunshile) is Sephy's sister; Jasmine Hadley (Amie Buhari) is a troubled alcoholic, and Kamal Hadley, (Daniel Norford), her mother and father respectively, is a politician, and therefore draws on this aspect of influencing change. He shows manipulations of the areas under his control in ways that have varying responses, such as integrating a few 'nought' pupils like Callum into a 'cross' school, but with tokenism. Fury emerges from both sides of the racial battle, and as war begins, on both a personal and national scale.
Upholding the opposite side, Maggie (Emma Keele), and Ryan (Daniel Copeland) are Callum's parents, and despite being friends with the other family in years prior, have since drifted apart after complications. His brother Jude (Nathaniel McCloskey) is keen on revolution, and with his dad, turn to violence in a way that seems unexpected to everyone. Meanwhile, Sephy and Callum are secretly trying to keep their relationship kindled, as things fall apart around them.
The 'Romeo and Juliet' style narrative has an appeal, and for many young adult audience members, may potentially be their first exposure to a serious and thoroughly thought provoking play. With powerful presence, Noughts & Crosses provides a dramatic and engaging plot to inspire future generations, while educating on politics and the impact of representation and racial segregation, that remains as relevant as ever. By the end though, the piece potentially loses traction as it seems to try and cover too much; while the ending is a lovely cyclical link, it overall arguably loses some impact due to some parts of the script lacking refinement.
Although appearing quite blank to begin with, Simon Kenny’s set design is effective in its use. With the stage surrounded by multipurpose red panes, they often become TV screens, or otherwise, doors, windows, or lockers. Keeping it simple doesn’t detract from then value of the message being presented, particularly with the lighting, designed by Ben Cowens, but does leave a fair amount to the imagination for some significant scenes. The use of light up tables and chairs in a variety of circumstances show thought for props, particularly of a touring nature, and each piece of dialogue and movement has a smooth transition between them.
In summary, for those who are after a unique take on big topics, this is one for you, but for a deeper approach to the subject, then perhaps not. However, with direction by Esther Richardson, Malorie Blackman’s revolutionary concepts, and a cast that can pull it off, Noughts & Crosses is an important piece of theatre.