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7th March 2019

Review: Noughts and Crosses

Sam Bronheim reviews Sabrina Mahfouz’s adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses at The Lowry
Review: Noughts and Crosses
Photo: @Max Pixel

‘Noughts and Crosses’, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Malorie Blackman, explores a star-crossed romance in a society dominated by racial conflict. In this world the black population – Crosses – are the dominant race, superior financially and socially to the oppressed white people – the Noughts.

Persephone ‘Sephy’ (Heather Agyepong) is a Cross but Callum (Billy Harris) is a Nought, so their friendship in this society is nearly impossible. Tensions only grow when Callum becomes one of the first ever Noughts to attend Sephy’s black school. Their relationship becomes increasingly strained by the hate and pressure from the society around them.

This thought-provoking concept should have delivered a strong and powerful message amidst Callum and Sephy’s tragic romance. However, as a fan of the original book, I couldn’t help but feel that this adaptation (Sabrina Mahfouz) didn’t do it the justice it deserved.

Firstly, I found myself longing for the intermission towards the end of the first half, which was an hour and 20 minutes; lengthy compared to the 40-minute second half. Perhaps this was an attempt to establish context before reaching the climax of the plot, though, in my opinion, it was too much. The fast-paced nature of the play worked well with the incredible and ever-changing set but left me detached from the characters. I was overjoyed in the second half where the storyline was gripping, easier to follow and allowed connect with the characters. The chemistry between Harris and Agyepong was also much more captivating.

I respect trying to stay true to the book, but in any adaptation there can (and should) be smaller elements left out.  I acknowledge the personal issues Sephy and Callum faced individually were relevant to their development but they were also overwhelming. In fact, I was regularly trying to decide whether or not something was intentional or simply inadequately executed. A scene where Sephy was bullied for standing up for the Noughts provoked almost no sympathy in me; was this due to the unsurprising hostility of the Crosses towards Noughts or flat acting?

It took a while, but eventually I sympathised with Sephy and Callum. Their love was definitely one of the most memorable aspects of the play. I especially liked how its forbidden nature was mirrored by their intimate moments occurring in seclusion. This was shown as the young naïve teenagers’ affection first blossomed at secret meetings at the beach.

Later, on the brink of young-adulthood, they finally confessed their love in a hidden bunker in the woods. The only time their love was displayed publicly was when it was taken away, in what I thought was the most powerful scene of the play: Sephy heartbreakingly calls out “I love you!” as Callum is hung for involvement in a violent Nought-liberation movement. A giant ladder led up to the gallows where Callum stood. Sephy and Callum’s families sat on either side, divided, whilst Sephy cried up to her doomed lover from the centre of the stage. The hanging arrived with a crescendo of music and the lights cutting out. I was finally on the edge of my seat (a little too late) as the actors took their bows.

Sam Bronheim

Sam Bronheim

Co-Science Editor

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