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Review: Noughts and Crosses at York Theatre Royal

I’ll put it out there. I haven’t read Noughts and Crosses. When our editor suggested that I go and see the show because it was one of her favourite books of all time, but she couldn’t go, I was more than a little worried. What if I hated it? What if it made me suddenly realise that our editor has THE worst taste in books, and shows ever?

Thankfully, I didn’t need to worry, as prize winning author Malorie Blackman was clearly on to a good thing when writing her Noughts and Crosses young adult novels, if the representation we saw at York theatre Royal tonight was anything to go by.

Director Esther Richardson originally worked on this project in 2019 and mentions in her director’s notes that through it she has been able to work with some of the leading Black and global majority artists in UK theatre, along with early career artists and those making their professional debut. It was a young cast that we saw tonight, but this only aided the narrative, which begins when the main characters are young teens, jumping forward to their early twenties in the second half of the play. It can sometimes be difficult to believe older actors when they are playing young teenagers, but the cast we saw carried this off with no problems at all and were completely believable. Particularly impressive were the two principal actors (Effie Ansah and James Arden), who were highly effective in conveying the greater maturity of their characters, Sephy and Callum in the second half.

Blackman’s socio-political message came through loud and clear from the beginning, in what we as an audience could both hear through the dialogue and see reflected in the costumes and set.

Props, costumes and set were actually all relatively simple, but very effective in their use. Predominantly red and black, they added to the feel of the stark contrast between the Noughts and the Crosses. Images on video screens served to support the short scenes and vignettes we were shown, that developed the narrative at pace.

Noughts and Crosses has recently become a set text for GCSE drama, and it was pleasing to see many students in the audience who were invested in the performance throughout and enthusiastically discussing what they had seen as they left. This is testament to the strength of Pilot Theatre’s production, who are an international touring theatre company, based in York.

This was a production of high quality, that was accessible to younger audiences who were familiar with the text, as well as those more mature audiences (like myself) who had never read the books. A production with definite impact that leaves the audience with a lot to think about.

I’m off to reserve the books from the library online, our editor may have found herself another Noughts and Crosses fan…



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