Noughts and Crosses
Theatre Royal Brighton & UK Tour
Reviewed – 19th March 2019
“misfires terribly, covering too many issues without any real cohesion and substance”
The idea of Noughts and Crosses appears a simple one. The tables have turned and the power in the world rests with the black population, not the white. We have the Crosses that epitomises power, wealth and political dominance and then the Noughts, second class citizens who are discriminated against because of their beliefs and are banned from interaction with the Crosses.
The story of Noughts and Crosses follows two teens from opposing sides of society, Sephy (Heather Agyepong), a Cross and Callum (Billy Harris), a Nought. We start by seeing their childhood innocence but that soon shifts onto much darker tones.
Throughout the piece we identify the rest of the cast (Doreene Blackstock, Jack Condon, Daniel Copeland, Lisa Howard, Chris Jack and Kimisha Lewis) jumping between characters. From parents of the two teens to members of rebellious militia groups amongst others. This could be a real strength of the piece but however falls flat with no real clear distinction vocally from the actors to differentiate between the roles which is ultimately confusing for the audience.
In the Noughts and Crosses novel series Malorie Blackman understands who we are as people better than most. The characters she’s created, in Sephy and Callum particularly, have depth but are poorly transitioned onto stage by adapter Sabrina Mahfouz. I do sympathise with Mahfouz however as it is an ambitious effort to translate all the themes from the first two novels, which Noughts and Crosses is based on, into just two hours. Above all I feel there is a clear generation gap in the writing, condescending in its approach to youth issues. The use of phrases such as ‘Flipping Sod’ makes us cringe rather than connect.
The saving grace in this production however comes from the design team, in that of Josh Drualas Pharo (Lighting) Arun Ghosh (Music), Xana (Sound), Adam McCready (Sound Engineer) Ian William Galloway (Video) and Simon Kerry (Design). The arrangement echoes The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night Time, a sparse stage with hidden compartments and doors. The attractive set helps the transitioning of scenes seem effortless.
Overall Noughts and Crosses misfires terribly, covering too many issues without any real cohesion and substance. Rape, physical abuse, teenage pregnancy and radicalisation are all pertinent issues however the end result is chaotic and clumsy; a condescending scattergun of the analysis of youth and love.
Reviewed by Nathan Collins
Photography by Robert Day
Noughts and Crosses
Theatre Royal Brighton until 23rd March
then UK Tour continues
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 7th September 2018
“The throbbing backwards and forwards motion of the set pieces, metaphorically becomes the walls of Steven’s mind”
‘Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK’. So the statistic emblazoned within the programme of new show Distance declares. It is certainly an issue that needs to be extensively addressed, which, collaborators Alex McSweeney and Simon Pittman successfully achieve with their new production. Distance precisely depicts the struggles of one man and his mental health, effectively portraying what so many feel on the inside, but can never be fully understood. McSweeney was compelled to write about this ‘invisible illness’ after five people he knew killed themselves in just over five years. All male. The passion and dedication to get under the skin of this disease is so very apparent. But there is no preaching a cause here. Distance efficaciously negotiates being laugh-out-loud entertaining and heartbreakingly honest within a matter of moments.
Steven (Adam Burton) has been going through a dark time of late. Recently separated, and on the verge of getting a divorce from his wife (Lindsay Fraser), he serendipitously bumps into an old friend (Abdul Salis) whilst on the train to a job interview. On the surface, Steven is friendly and engaged in this rather banal encounter, yet, deep down, he is spiralling into the dark, troubled inner depths of his mind and being. We find him frantically trying to makes sense of the chaotic world around him and his place within it. Action abstractly flits from the present, to being taken on a trip to the inside of Steve’s head, hearing, and physically seeing, the unrestrained, and often, disturbing feelings that he is currently enduring.
Burton delivers a hard-hitting and truthful portrayal of the how it must be like to have a “black dog” inside you, as his character Steven describes it. With nuanced ease he conveys swinging between functioning normally on the outside and then demonstrating quick flickers of the pain and turmoil on the inside – the double-edged sword of depression. The rest of the cast offer tremendous backup in their supporting roles, providing either lighter relief or painful context for Steven’s struggles.
The cherry on top is the ingenious set design from Bethany Wells, which feels like a character in itself. The throbbing backwards and forwards motion of the set pieces, metaphorically becomes the walls of Steven’s mind, gradually enclosing on him at a claustrophobic rate and then easing out again as he tries to feel and act ‘normal’.
Distance offers an excellent examination on mental health issues, raising a red flag on how it can affect not just the person themselves, but the loved ones around them, as well as intimating the pressures our society implements on us all. Particularly, the sense of there being a universal crisis of masculinity. Powerful and thought-provoking yet enjoyably accessible. A winning combination for bringing much needed awareness to a deeply serious matter.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Richard Davenport
Park Theatre until 29th September