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Noughts and Crosses

Vinny Lawrenson Woods observes a love affair not going anywhere in the RSC's latest outing at the Liverpool Playhouse

Published on February 27th 2008.

Noughts and Crosses

Inspired by Romeo and Juliet, this love story was more tic-tac-toe than Shakespeare. And like the game, I found it frustrating and not really going anywhere.

I understand the use of role reversals to explain inequality, racial discrimination and class, but this was more cliché than thought provoking

The Royal Shakespeare Company has a rich history in adapting novels to the stage. Dominic Cooke, formerly associate director of the RSC and now artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre, returned to the RSC to adapt and direct Malorie Blackmans’ award winning 2001 best seller, Noughts and Crosses.

Set in a segregated society in a parallel universe where you are either a nought or a cross, the play tells the story of Callum McGregor and Sephy Hadley, two young lovers separated by prejudice. Callum played by Richard Madden is a nought, a light skinned second class citizen. Sephy, played by Ony Uhiara, is a Cross, dark skinned and daughter of one of the most powerful men in the country.

Callum and Sephy have been friends since they were young children, but now in their teenage years their differences are starting to cause problems. After Callum is accepted into Sephy’s school, a Cross school, society's intolerances are brought to the surface.

Like the book itself, we observe our hero and heroine's relationship develop, which caused large bouts of giggles and sniggering from the audience, as they tackle the many injustices brought about through bigotry and racism, and inevitably leads to resentment and hatred. The choices then made by each family have long reaching and fatal consequences for our star-crossed lovers.

The cast had a lot to do to bring the script to life, but did it well. With an empty stage, apart from the odd table and chairs, they were really exposed out there. I did wonder about the casting though.

The McGregors were like a typical Hollyoaks family, each member from a different part of the country, which failed to muster any credibility.

There were some nice touches though. I personally enjoyed how the TV news was brought to the scenes without the use of screens and projectors. At the flick of a remote control, the news characters enveloped the room, causing the “viewers” to stop and listen. Very similar to what happens here when the TV is turned on.

Like tic-tac-toe, I felt I knew the ending before we got there. This was social history for kids, and not at all subtle. I understand the use of role reversals to explain inequality, racial discrimination and class, but this was more cliché than thought provoking.

Though the book was aimed at younger people, I really enjoyed it, but I expected more from an RSC adaptation. The constant stopping of the action, to allow Callum to turn to the audience and describe what happens next., was clumsy and unnecessary. Audiences, even younger ones are more sophisticated than that and don’t need their hands held at a performance. Hollywood has proved this, at least on film.

Considering the popularity of the book, this was a real opportunity to attract the next generation of theatre-goers, but as a younger person I’m sure I would have felt a little patronised. All in all Noughts and Crosses was just a succession of heavy handed scenes lacking any authenticity.


Noughts and Crosses, Liverpool Playhouse, until Saturday. Tickets: 0151 709 4776

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XantheterraFebruary 27th 2008.

At last, a review that speaks sense and doesn't bow to the almost feverish need to keep propping up the arts in the region by heavily praising every show that arrives here. I was in the audience last night, and though the cast were beaming when they took their curtain calls, I thought I had missed something. I'd actually started to develop a fear that I was the only person in the room who recognised this heavy-handed and clunky piece of needless (extended) exposition for what it was. When the most exciting thing that happens on stage is the cast placing chairs down in unison to the sound of a prison door being slammed shut, you're know you're in for a bumpy couple of hours! Where was this euphoric audience when the far superior 'Testing the Echo' played to an almost empty room only a fortnight ago?

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