Review: Noughts & Crosses. Nottingham Playhouse Youth Theatre.

four star

The play Noughts & Crosses – from the popular novels by Malorie Blackman has an exciting stage adaptation by Dominic Cooke. The tag line is ‘Love is not always black and white’ and relates to a fascinating fictional reversal of two sections of a society. The ruling classes are the crosses ( a black culture) and the lower classes the noughts (the paler skin culture and former slaves). In the midst of social tension and threatened terrorist activity between the two cultures blossoms a friendship and love between Callum from the noughts and Sephy from the crosses. The link is clearly connected to stories such as Romeo and Juliet.

Noughts & Crosses is playing on the Nottingham Playhouse main stage for two performances only by the Nottingham Playhouse Youth Theatre. In a totally ideal world a broader ethnicity of membership in the youth theatre would allow for a clearer visual void between the two cultures onstage. However, the piece still works well through the clarity of the direction by director Nathan Powell and his mature and talented young cast. The important thing is that the play still challenges perceptions of injustice, racial intolerance in this deeply sectarian fictional society that often frighteningly mirrors our own contemporary society and terrorist atrocities.

… mature and talented young cast

The main cast members often directly address the audience either from an individual’s standpoint or in chorus with the concerns of the story. Overall the diction of the actors voices is beautifully clear and the story-telling intuitive and exciting. There is a lot of clear talent in this young company. Theatrical devises also allow a future Sephy (Charlotte Brailsford) to comment on the actions and feelings of present Sephy (Alice Maylon). Likewise the future Callum (Stan Cook) addresses the anxieties and feelings of present Callum (Matty Collins).

The striking two level set design by Alice Smith has a utilitarian feel, an almost deliberate blandness of colour palate that has echoes of Brechtian or Russian Expressionist theatre. Silhouette effects are used as a method of telling parts of the story. The set really comes powerfully into its own when the supermarket bomb blows it up and debris rains down onto the stage and actors. Likewise the choice of muted colours for the costumes in the main ensemble really helps to lift the bright optimistic blue of Sephy’s dress. The terrific soundscape created by Martin Curtis gives the production great aural depth and menace.

As a fictional piece Noughts & Crosses offers less of a realistic picture of a multi-cultural Britain but does still disturb whilst being brutally explicit about a society in which worth and status are determined by racial status. Nottingham Playhouse Youth Theatre and director  Nathan Powell should be very proud of their work in this challenging piece.

Reviewer: Phil Lowe

Review also written for Nottingham Post.

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