Role reversal exposes the racial divide
Playing Noughts & Crosses, Belgrade Theatre until March 30.
This adaptation of Marjorie Blackman’s 2001 novel is set in a world where power lies not with the white population (the noughts) but with the black (the crosses). It is a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ tale in with we witness Sephy, a rich and privileged daughter of the ruling class fall in love with Callum, a nought and very much a second class citizen. It provides very powerful theatre as we see the effect this has on the families of the two lovers. The youthful cast of eight all give very strong performances with some playing a number of different parts. The set is simple but is able to subtly convey so much including the space afforded to the privileged crosses compared to the cramped conditions endured by the noughts. The cast themselves also take responsibility for some very slick scene changes. The production is enhanced by atmospheric music, theatrical smoke and TV screens providing a typical 24/7 news service. There are also some very clever little touches such as plasters only being available in black and the noughts been unable to get them in their own skin colour. As the story unfolds we see how the two young people are kept apart and are unable to develop their relationship. However, the story is all about inequality, privilege, prejudice, lack of opportunity, oppression and rebellion. Although you can never condone terrorism the play makes you empathise with the frustration suffered by the Noughts and understand how Callum turns from a motivated and ambitious young student to a freedom fighter. There are many similarities with the civil rights movement in the USA and the rise of the ANC in South Africa. However so much of the discrimination can be argued to apply to the United Kingdom in 2019. There were many groups of children and young people in the audience and it is really encouraging if the book has been introduced into the school curriculum. Marjorie Blackman once said that her greatest wish was for her story to no longer be so relevant. Sadly I’m afraid we’ve still got an awfully long way to go.