Review: Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre

The poignant political novel Noughts and Crosses is more than just another Romeo and Juliet parable – it flips society’s racial divide and sends out a powerful message to us all.

Malorie Blackman’s world is one in which a white underclass, the Noughts, is pitted against a ruling black majority, the Crosses.

The gripping story newly adapted by Sabrina Mahfouz for Pilot Theatre and Derby Theatre, exposes what it really means to grow up in a divided community and deserved its standing ovation from the audience at Derby Theatre last night. 

Think the America of the 1950s, South Africa under apartheid, and Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 80s – not to mention the present day when so many people feel marginalised in our increasingly split society. 

Sephy is the daughter of a government minister from the controlling Crosses who falls for rebel Callum, son of a dangerous Nought agitator. Callum is from a poor family and lives on a rough estate. Sephy lives in a grand country house with a private beach. 

Callum’s mother was nanny to the baby Sephy and the two mothers thought their children would be great friends. They were always together, ‘hiding, smiling, climbing, laughing’ they reflect in the prologue.

But their friendship, and their desire to be together threatened family loyalties and sparked a growing political crisis.

If you haven’t already read the highly-acclaimed book you won’t be sure of the ending but you can have a pretty good guess knowing the storyline is linked to Shakespeare’s doomed young lovers. 

In this adaptation Mahfouz has pared down the epic book without losing any of the key pieces of the story.

It is still two and a half hours long, but director Esther Richardson kept it feisty and fast and made good use of some excellent special effects by an obviously talented team of creatives.

The set design by Simon Kenny was a strikingly simple abstract space made more effective by the brilliant lighting by Joshua Drualus Pharo and sound by Arun Ghosh and Xana.

Heather Agyepong, who plays Sephy, had clearly absorbed the fearless, confident characteristics of the teenage Cross making the part her own. She played the challenging role with an incredible astuteness and was especially superb in the more tender moments.

Billy Harris who played Callum dealt with the emotional weight of his role with a maturity to be admired. His handling of the heartbreaking final scenes was quite moving.

This may be a play aimed at a younger teenage audience but it will certainly resonate with everyone who questions why society is not more equal and fair in the 21st century and wants to see change. 

The play can be seen at Derby Theatre until February 16. Go to http://www.derbytheatre.co.uk for tickets.

The rest of the cast were Doreene Blackstock as Jasmine Hadley, Jack Condon as Jude, Daniel Copeland as Ryan, Lisa Howard as Meggie, Chris Jack as Kamal and Kimisha Lewis as Minerva.

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