Shakespeare’s School brings Malorie Blackman’s much loved novel Noughts and Crosses to the stage in a performance that falls disappointingly flat despite the potential of the well-adapted script. Overly reliant on the excitement of an action-packed storyline, the cast simply does not live up to the pull of the plot.

The young troupe shows glimmers of promise, but overall it is an unconvincing performance.

Noughts and Crosses tells the gripping story of a young interracial couple in a racist dystopian society, composed of a white underclass - “the noughts” - and a ruling black authority - “the crosses.” Sephy Hadley is a cross and Callum McGregor is a nought: Callum’s mother was Sephy’s nurse, so the pair have always been close. However, as political tension escalates and claims for integration become violent, the teenagers’ relationship develops into a forbidden love which society simply will not tolerate. When Callum’s family becomes involved in the Liberation militia, some serious decisions have to be made and one fundamental question remains: can love overcome the social brutalities of a segregated, racist society?

Adapted for the stage by Dominic Cooke of the RSC, the script in itself holds strong and effectively condenses the novel for the stage. However, the Shakespeare School’s all-white cast performance seems to forget that not all spectators will be familiar with the Blackman novel, and fails to explain the noughts/crosses racial division very far beyond the distinguishing of the two groups by having them wear black t-shirts for the crosses and white t-shirts for the noughts.

The cast is young, so the odd hiccup is more than excusable. However, most of the actors frustratingly fail to project their voices, meaning that the audience loses bits and pieces of dialogue. When soundtracks come on, it often only serves to worsen the problem. Emma Benton in the role of Callum’s mother, Meggie, almost seems at odds with the rest of the cast because of her perfect elocution and talent for conveying genuine raw emotion. Even the central couple lack chemistry, and ineffective attempts to conceal this through an excessive amount of kissing scenes only serves to make this more evident. Further threads hang loose: for example, some strange transitions from dialogue to self-narration are jarring and illusion-shattering for the spectator.

Fourteen cast members don the stage, but is unclear why most of them are there. The stage is far too busy. Instances of good direction by Louisa Nightingale do shine through at times in visually effective scenes that make the most of having so many cast members at hand. However, this is basic and insufficient to redeem the performance.

The young troupe shows glimmers of promise, but overall it is an unconvincing performance. If you take anything away from this play, it’ll be the stimulation of an intriguing ideological concept rather than any emotional provocation from the cast.

Reviews by Maria Hagan

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The Blurb

Shakespeare's School presents a thrilling interpretation of Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (current Children's Laureate), originally adapted for the stage by Dominic Cooke (RSC, 2007). This compelling drama radically addresses contemporary issues and uses a talented ensemble of young actors from King Edward VI School in Stratford-upon-Avon, the place where Shakespeare himself began his studies. First performed in November 2013, the production received outstanding reviews. ‘The KES production proved more poignant than the RSC… Watch out RSC – there are some shining stars waiting in the wings’ (Herald).