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Stage Dragon Review: Noughts & Crosses At The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 12 Oct, 2022
Updated on: 12 Oct, 2022

By Alice Fowler

Malorie Blackman’s acclaimed and hugely influential young adult novel, Noughts & Crosses, was published 21 years ago. This week, York-based touring theatre company Pilot Theatre brings it to the Yvonne Arnaud stage.

The look of love: Sephy, a Cross (Effie Ansah) and Callum, a Nought (James Arden).

Noughts & Crosses depicts an alternative 21st-century Britain, in which Crosses (dark-skinned people) hold power over Noughts (lighter-skinned people). In a society where Nought-Cross relationships are taboo, a young Cross girl, Sephy (Effie Ansah) and a Nought boy, Callum (James Arden) fall in love. Sephy is the daughter of a high-ranking politician and alcoholic mother, while Callum’s family struggles on the margins.

We follow as Sephy and Callum’s innocent childhood friendship develop in a racist and highly violent society. Callum’s father and brother join a paramilitary organisation that opposes Cross supremacy, while Sephy’s powerful, media-savvy father works to keep Noughts oppressed. In a world where society, as well as their own families, are against them, can Sephy and Callum’s complex but deep-rooted love survive?

A family at war: Callum, centre, with father (Daniel Copeland) and brother (Nathaniel McCloskey).

This production is not for the faint-hearted.

Twice, a hangman’s noose dangles above the stage. The horror of a terrorist attack in a café is cleverly shown. Now and then, the twists and turns of the plot – adapted from Blackman’s book by Sabrina Mahfouz – can feel like melodrama.

Nonetheless, thanks to an accomplished cast, director Esther Richardson and designer Simon Kenny have created a production suffused with restless energy. Though society has changed in the years since Noughts & Crosses was written, its burning issues of racism and oppression are all too relevant.

Forbidden love: Callum (James Arden) stands trial.

On opening night, the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre was packed with teenagers, their own fizzing energy amplifying that of the performers.

The play starts and ends with the birth of a baby: in every society – however repressive – a sign of hope. Fans of the book will enjoy this timely and powerful production.

Noughts & Crosses runs at The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until Saturday, October 15. You can book tickets online here or call the box office on 01483 440000.

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