Imagine if the power in the world rested not with the white population but with the black. This time, the people who can’t get plasters to match their skin colour are white. Noughts & Crosses is a story of segregation, insurrection and political violence. It’s a tale of oppression and rebellion and a portrait of everyday discrimination, speaking of the here and now. This is a story about class and the damage deprivation does to mental wellbeing. And it has now been adapted to the live stage. Sabrina Mahfouz’s adaptation skips briskly through the book, streamlining and removing key scenes/details where necessary but staying close to the initial idea and concept.
The play follows Sephy, a Cross, a rich and privileged daughter of the ruling class as she falls in love with Callum, a nought, a second-class citizen. 400 pages of plot are condensed into 2 and a half hours. We get told that noughts get the menial jobs and how nought history doesn’t get taught in schools. We watch a simple story about two young people trying to start a relationship but being kept apart.
Firstly, the actors. Billy Harris’ Callum turns from aspirational student to bitter freedom fighter perfectly. From the facial expressions to his vast movements on stage we see how he is given little chance to reflect on what has happened in his life and visually, you can see he is unknowable as a result. Props go to costume design specifically as he moves from a typical teenager to someone so indistinct it’s frightening and it is all visually represented through his costume. There is then Heather Agyepong’s Sephy who carries the play’s emotional weight. Growing from insecure teen to articulate young woman, Agyepong plays Sephy with a sense of directness, honesty tied in with playfulness that makes the audience laugh and giggle at times. She carries the audience with her throughout the journey.
When it comes to the set, the props and staging did a brilliant job of making the audience panic, fear for their lives as well as the characters lives. It engulfs every single member of the audience into the story perfectly. Personally, my favourite part was when the noose came down, slowly but brightly lit while a terrifying looming set of stairs was placed up to it and I heard the woman behind me inhale in shock. It was astounding how just the use of props made the audience feel that emotion. And then when the bomb goes off and I and most likely others physically jumped in our seats over and over as the sound of the blast echoed throughout the theatre.
Having read the book before going to see this adaptation, I knew what I was entering. And yet, this version of Noughts & Crosses pulled me deeper and deeper, wrapping me up in history and the present and how things are supposed to be. The only time I didn’t feel like I was completely wrapped up in this story and the impact of this play was during the interval and that was purely due to eating my vanilla ice cream. Other than that, my attention was always on the stage. Never once was I bored, questioning decisions made by the director and producer. Never once did I think why have they done it that way? Everything was perfect. And I hope in the future, plays about young adults and other YA books can also be adapted into theatre and allow others outside of the readers to experience their beauty.