Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman was one of those novels everybody read at around the age of thirteen or fourteen, and I’m sure for many it was just as formative as it was for me. That’s hopefully not being too pretentious – I’m not saying it’s a great work of literature, but it is a great book for young adults. Transferring the tale of reversed racial segregation to the stage, in particular a stage likely to see more footfall from adults than teenagers, is a challenging task, but I think Phosile Mashinkila is up for it.
I saw Noughts and Crosses in its rehearsal process rather than a conventional preview, and this slightly unusual approach exposes a few flaws and successes that might not otherwise be apparent, as well as hinting at how far the show could come in the week or so before it opens. First off, the cast are still mostly in rehearsal mode – the two leads, Emanuella Kwenortey and Samuel Elwin as Sephy and Callum, have a tendency to rush their lines. Elwin in particular can be very difficult to hear, having adopted a rougher accent that, while in character, seems unsuited to the production, given that no one else seems to be putting one on.
The violence of the book is definitely one its strong points in bringing home the significance of the issues at stake, and the cast don’t shy away from putting that aggression on stage. However, it needs a bit of practice if it’s going to look real – everything is clearly staged, from the awkward stage punch Kwenortey doesn’t know when to react to, to the way Sephy’s kidnappers gently pull her around the stage. A fight between Callum and his brother Jude was the exception in this, proving very brutal and animalistic if a little scruffy.
In the rehearsal I saw, Mashinkila picked up on these flaws very quickly, but either she needs to be firmer or the cast need to listen better to what is very accurate direction. Angus de Wilton as Jude took direction very well, and while I would have liked to see more of the psychopath in his character, his performance is still compelling and he frequently steals scenes away from the less energised Elwin. Another bright spark is Carolin Kreuzer who, despite being in a small role, manages to convey a sense of her character through a smattering of appearances. If the changes I saw the director advising are made, and the cast follow through, there is nothing to stop this being a solid, though not earth shaking, play.
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