STAGE REVIEW: Noughts And Crosses @ Northern Stage (18.10.22) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: The company of Noughts & Crosses photo by Robert Day

Pilot Theatre is committed to presenting younger audiences with big ideas relevant to their lives right now. For the young adults in this audience, it may well be their first encounter with this form. Getting it right is a big ask, and there’s no bigger issue for young people today than systemic racism. As hate crime and racist attacks continue to increase across the UK, Malorie Blackman’s Noughts And Crosses is as relevant today as it was when it was written over 20 years ago. Unfortunately.

Yearning for a world where we’re free to love whoever we choose is a tale as old as time – think Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story etc – but this tale of forbidden love is set in the context of racial segregation, capital punishment and systemic oppression of a single community…in an altered reality that could be any time, any place and yet is every time and every place. This award-winning theatre adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz is uncomfortable, challenging the audience to face up to their own discrimination and prejudice, just as Sephy and Callum have to.

Both in their first leading roles, Effie Ansah and James Arden do a great job of bringing these familiar heroes to the stage. “Callum’s a top guy” according to the lad behind me – and that’s before the play starts! Externalising their inner emotional landscapes is as much about movement and all that is unsaid than the words themselves. The Ensemble play a fantastic supportive role in helping the young, flawed, complicated yet brave lovers in their exploration of hope and rage, dreams and despair.

Inspired by infrared photography, Simon Kenny’s ‘familiar but different’ set design is versatile, simple and suggestive, and the costume design is subtle and yet indicative of the clear differences between the two groups in this society. Using screens to show on TV what is happening on the stage works well, making the connection that what we see on TV is happening in real life somewhere to real people.

As it’s on the Drama curriculum, expect school groups, but don’t let that put you off. The action on stage is enough to hold the attention of every audience member. You forget who’s around you, just like you should. You’re invested in these two young people before you, full of dreams and potential, kindness and love – and yet seemingly powerless to make change happen.

We all have something to learn here. Ending on a note of hope, there is still much to be done for all those of any age who, like Sephy and Callum, believe that a better world is possible.

Noughts & Crosses is at Northern Stage, Newcastle until Saturday 22nd October.

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