Review: Noughts & Crosses

Heather Agyepong as Sephy in Noughts & Crosses. Photographs: Robert Day
4 Apr 2019 @ 7.59 pm
| Entertainment

Imagine a world where power is in the hands of the black population and the white races are their inferiors.

Noughts & Crosses
  • Till Sat Apr 6
  • York Theatre Royal
  • 15 – £32.50
  • More details

Noughts & Crosses is a novel for young adults but it in no way compromises on tough truths.

The plot is based on a simple reversal, oppression, segregation and political violence are there but the power base is reversed.

There are evocations of the ANC and of the American struggle for civil rights with the action focused on the daily discrimination against white people.

They are known as ‘noughts’, whereas the black population are known as ‘crosses’. It is impossible to escape the image of ‘nought’ representing nothing and cross being the strong symbol of the affirmative vote.

Immediate and real

‘A strangely recognisable world’
The novel is written by Malorie Blackman and has been adapted for the stage by Sabrina Mahfouz. A tense drama, it is immediate and real, but most importantly it is totally unsentimental.

The director, Esther Richardson, makes the premise of the novel central to her production.

And with the help of the designer, Simon Kenny, it gels into a strangely recognisable world.

Kenny wanted to create a familiar place which had a social difference. He hit on the use of infrared photography with its relentless use of red giving us an unsettling visual experience.

He uses abstract space on stage which can furnish the black family with open scenes and be compressed to show the confined spaces inhabited by the white family.

The cast work as a team to create fluency by changing scenes and at times violently moving furniture to show the devastation of a bomb explosion.

Freedom fighters

The plot is essentially about enforced segregation which keeps the young protaganists apart. Stephy is played with intensity by Heather Agyepong.

Her friend Callum (Billy Harris) turns from an ambitious student to a bitter freedom fighter. Important weight is lent by Chris Jack as a manipulative politician, Home Secretary of the Government and Stephy’s father.

After all it is the politics which control their lives so Callum’s father and brother are freedom fighters for the ‘noughts’ and eventually Callum too is drawn into the struggle.

Billy Harris as Callum and Heather Agyepong as Sephy
L-R: Billy Harris (Callum), Lisa Howard (Meggie), Daniel Copeland (Ryan) and Jack Condon (Jude)

The cast work hard, doubling roles and keeping the narrative flowing.

Scenes are integrated, using rectangular red tiles which become windows, cupboards and house TV screens.

At one point the back wall becomes an electrified fence and is also used as a raised platform for executions. The play often returns to a neutral area, a beach, simple and timeless where the couple can meet.

Outside the conflict is evoked by using harsh lighting and jarring sound.

Thoroughly engaged

The play is on tour and not only offers workshops for schools but has also given an opportunity for making a five minute film in York.

There is an excellent Resource Pack to give background for Theatre Studies and English projects too; a brilliant addition to dwindling educational support.

Certainly, the young people in the audience on Tuesday were thoroughly engaged and immersed in the action. This uncompromising examination of racial conflict treats them as adults and does not gloss over unpleasant truths.