Noughts & Crosses
Theatre Royal Stratford East
APARTHEID reigns in Malorie Blackman’s young adult hit — but in her speculative vision, it’s black people who have all the power. Sabrina Mahfouz’s sharply angled adaptation for Pilot Theatre sees the stinging resonances come thick and fast.
Callum and his family are Noughts, a word that effectively affirms their non-status as people whose job and education prospects are as good as nullified by their whiteness.
The affirmatively named Crosses, meanwhile, have the money and the control, as exemplified in the ostensibly gilded life of Callum’s best friend Sephy, who automatically has access to the best school and whose largely absent father Kamal is the home secretary.
Esther Richardson’s production plays out on a stage of shifting red walls that underscore, along with Arun Ghosh and Xana’s doomy, pulsing score, an atmosphere of mounting threat.
The production invokes historic American civil rights protests but, as Callum’s father and older brother are drawn to militant action, seemingly more incidental observations ricochet home too — if only Noughts could find plasters in the same colour as their skin.
Meanwhile Callum’s sister Linny, the victim of a racist attack, has withdrawn into silence, trapped in her bedroom.
Mahfouz’s adaptation fillets the original rather too economically — scenes flash by thick and fast, barely allowing the characters to breathe, let alone the audience.
Conversely, the production struggles with pace — the first half is too long; the second too quick. But both Billy Harris and Heather Agyepong as Callum and Sephy brilliantly capture the impact of adult politics on the emotional lives of young people. No wonder, at the show I saw, a largely teenage audience watched in transfixed silence.