Writer: Malorie Blackman
Adaptor: Sabrina Mahfouz
Director: Esther Richardson
The time – unspecified. The place – familiar yet unknown. Teenagers Sephy and Callum are sat on the beach. They are friends; more than that, they are becoming very close. But there is a problem. Sephy is a Cross and Callum is a Nought, and their friendship is forbidden.
This is a society that is divided along racial – and consequently, social – lines. It’s a place where the Black Crosses are the elite, the people in power, and the White Noughts are the underclass. Noughts don’t get to enjoy some of the things we take for granted – mobile phones, even daily milk. If they attend the better-quality Cross schools they are bullied, and friendships between Noughts and Crosses are violently discouraged.
Tensions are constantly bubbling below the surface, the scent of imminent violence is in the air and the punishments draconian. This is the world that Malorie Blackman has described in Noughts and Crosses, a world that will be familiar to too many people – and it’s the background for this Romeo and Juliet tale, adapted for the stage by Sabrina Mahfouz.
The play is focused largely around the lives of Sephy’s family, the Hadleys, and Callum’s MacGregors, which should allow the opportunity for the writer to really develop personalities, yet despite this many of the characterisations as portrayed lack real emotional depth. There are strong performances from Effie Ansah (Sephy) and James Arden (Callum), both starting with a believable child-like innocence which evaporates and becomes a youthful, if somewhat impetuous, maturity as their relationship develops and events unfold around them. There’s good work here too from Daniel Norford as Sephy’s father Kamal, the Home Office minister with strong personal beliefs who is the public face of a government desperate to maintain the status quo against growing opposition. Some of the others are less well defined though, and while we might understand why Sephy’s mother Jasmine (Amie Buhari) descends into alcoholism, her feelings are not really explored and Callum’s mother Meggie (Emma Keele) becomes almost a side note, despite being involved in the event that kicks everything off.
The set by Simon Kenny works well, creating a flexible space where settings are defined by furniture and allowing for slick and seamless scene changes. It’s like a huge semi-opaque book with opening panels that can be used for doors or cupboards, and with video that allows us to follow what the public is being told and contrast it with what we’ve actually seen happening.
This very relevant play depicts a place that many will hope we’ve moved away from, yet which will remain familiar to many more. It’s a reminder that for large numbers both in the UK and around the world, life is far from rosy and opportunities are limited. It’s a piece that’s clearly aimed at young adults, and finding so many of them in the audience, and the play on the GCSE syllabus, gives you hope that maybe the future will be better.
Runs Until 28 January 2023 and on tour