Noughts & Crosses Review | The Lowry | Manchester
In a world where brown plasters reign supreme and Idris Elba would be the only suitable choice for Bond, two young lovers are kept apart by an unjust societies’ racism and prejudice.
We follow Sephy (Heather Agyepong) and Callum (Billy Harris) through a world where reversed racial discrimination sees sluggish progress to integrate black and white schools that is met with explosive opposition. Echoing our world history of racial segregation, rebellion and resistance, Malorie Blackman weaves a dystopian fantasy where all power rests with the black population, also known as the crosses. While racism is tolerated against the white noughts, (offensively referred to as blankers) we see noughts and crosses as opposites with Callum’s family held on the lowest economic ladder, offered inadequate housing and no public-school education.
On the road to reversing this trend, Callum whose mother was once a housekeeper for the nought’s Home Office Minister Kamal Hadley, has grown up and fallen in love with his daughter Sephy. Having secured a trial placement at Sephy’s elite Heathcroft high school and with dreams of further education to better himself, Callum discovers that there are penetrating systems in place that keep the racial and social divides between the noughts and crosses alive.
We are guided through this fictional dystopia by both Callum and Sephy who throughout the novel split the chapters to relay their personal perspective of the story. Here their inner conflict is played out on a smaller scale. The melodrama allows the two young voices to speak in monologues showing their growth from persevering high schoolers into world-weary young adults in a convincing manner. With the two-tiered society in place, the production attempts to give both characters a fair shot at defending their families, rationalising their choices and explaining their entrapments.
In the Lowry Quays theatre, Blackman’s novel has been distilled to the finer details making the first in her five-book series a sharp and compact reworking. With a BBC One drama of the novel in the works, a detailed adaption filmed in South Africa is expected to give the story a lavish light. Here the landscape is black with director Esther Richardson utilising projectors, film and striking spotlighting to muster the snowballing plot into its next scene. Its minimal set with hidden compartments counters the detailed material of Blackman's work, relying on its fantastic cast to transport the audience with nuanced performances. Agyepong (Sephy) standing under a broken spotlight, challenging her privileged and undesired position captures her fragility in a far more honest and effective way that a needlessly extravagant set ever could.
The audience are asked to do some of the work in this harsh reframing of racism that blacks out your surroundings while reflecting familiar aspects of our society and history. Noughts and Crosses is a subtle production, overflowing with memorable plot points that travel between familiar worlds (mostly To Kill a Mockingbird and Romeo and Juliet). Despite having been written in 2001 and intended for young adults, the newly adapted script by Sabrina Mahfouz has reformed the story in a way that makes everybody feel welcome.