Review: Noughts & Crosses, Derby Theatre

Some bold creative choices make Noughts & Crosses a visual treat at Derby Theatre

“We are all responsible for the safety of this country”

At a moment when co-operation between theatres has never been more vital, and yet when national tours feel fraught with danger as cancellations loom large, it is pleasing to see Pilot Theatre and Derby Theatre putting their money where their mouth is with this production of Noughts & Crosses, co-produced with Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Mercury Theatre Colchester and York Theatre Royal.

With that in mind, it’s undoubtedly a canny choice of material, Malorie Blackman’s hugely popular young adult novel adapted here by Sabrina Mahfouz. Set in a alternative near future in which race relations are tipped right upside down, where systemic power lies in the hands of the black population and it is white people who suffer unconscionable oppression and abuse, Blackman then inserts a Romeo and Juliet love story but one which speaks much more to our times.

Esther Richardson’s production has a highly striking aesthetic. Simon Kenny’s design, alongside Arun Ghosh and Xana’s sound and Joshua Drualus Pharo’s lighting conjure up something close to dystopia in its boldness, powerfully demarcating the world of the haves and the havenots. And it is a world that is chillingly convincing, cutting so close to the bones of our own reality.

The love story between Heather Agyepong’s Sephy, a member of the elite, and Billy Harris’s Callum, the son of a housekeeper, is tenderly drawn. But what strikes home is the scope of their individual journeys – his from outspoken student to freedom fighter, hers from moneyed ignorance to woke believer. I particularly enjoyed watching with an audience of schoolkids, their visceral reactions showing that the power of theatre has waned not a jot.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Photos: Robert Day
Noughts & Crosses is booking at the Derby Theatre until 16th February, and then tours to Theatr Clwyd; The Lowry Salford; Mercury Theatre Colchester; Bristol Old Vic; Theatre Royal Brighton; Belgrade Theatre, Coventry; York Theatre Royal; Theatre Royal Stratford East; and Northern Stage

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