Noughts and Crosses

Wed 23rd – Sat 26th November 2011

reviews

Victoria Ibbett

at 00:52 on 24th Nov 2011

1agrees

1disagrees

A lack lustre performance that failed to live up to expectations, ‘Noughts and Crosses’ lacked the depth and edge that were the best features of Blackman’s novel, but nevertheless showed promise.

Sam Elwin and Emmanuella Kwenortey as Callum and Sephy were unconvincing at the start as the naive inheritors of a malicious and aggressive social system, Kwenortey was too apologetic and Elwin too empowered; it would have been good to see more emphasis put on the political dynamics of their relationship even at the start of the performance. The potential was there in the script but their interplay showed too little depth of development in the first half and I reached the interval disappointed.

However, their performances did deepen in the second half. Whilst the chemistry between the two leads remained pretty dead there were some touching exchanges with the secondary cast. Kwenortey and Lula Rahma Haseeb (Jasmine Hadley, Sephy’s mother) were excellent to watch when they came together. The fraught and tragically lonely dynamic of their mother-daughter relationship was touchingly portrayed. And the cynical sister, Minerva (Tammy O’Connor) added a further gloss to the first rate and observant representation of this family tone.

Elwin also grew into his role as the evening wore on but his best scene, unfortunately, was his final scene in which he finally achieved a rounded performance: the synthesis of hollow anticipation and passionate loyalty convincingly portrayed was not at all worth the wait, but satisfying nonetheless.

The supporting cast varied between excellent and unremarkable. Fiona Johnson deserves special mention for her stellar performance as Meggie McGregor. Excellent on all points, I could not fault her except that she came far too close to stealing the show. Her character was brilliantly realised and it was her performance that knitted together the passionate yet fraught atmosphere of the McGregor household. In fact coupled with the admirable performance of Rahma Haseeb this almost became a play dominated by the mothers of the story whose tightly constrained suffering was poignantly explored.

In terms of set design: it was simple, practical and versatile. I enjoyed the use of film in the first half which added another dimension to the production: the close up shots and cramped filming really conveyed a strong sense of claustrophobia which the actors sometimes struggled to achieve on the open stage but which significantly added to the performance.

Overall it was a raw and bumpy ride but Noughts and Crosses does have potential, whilst the delivery was at worst awkward, at its best it was affecting and really quite touching. Whilst I would not recommend this particularly above other plays on at present, it does have its various merits, Fiona Johnson being an outstanding one.

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Emily Troup

at 09:03 on 24th Nov 2011

1agrees

1disagrees

Noughts and Crosses was one of my favourite books as a teenager and I am not alone in that opinion. Malorie Blackman’s novel, though no Harry Potter, was extremely popular and won the Red House Children's Award in 2002. As such any stage adaptation must be aware of the rather large boots it has to fill. Phosile Mashinkila’s production slips into those shoes and though it occasionally stumbles manages to fill them comfortably for the most part.

The standard of acting was a particular highlight of the play. Sam Elwin and Emmanuella Kwenortey played Sephy and Callum; best friends and eventually lovers whose story ends in tragedy worthy of Romeo and Juliet. The roles were complex and both actors handled them well. Kwenortey managed to portray a Sephy who was both naïve and feisty; and likeable because of it. Elwin’s Callum was suitably conflicted; one moment a boy, the next a man which lent his character greater depth. However the chemistry between the two worked better as friends than lovers; the lack of slow-burning passion between them made it somewhat implausible when they eventually fell in love and into bed. Fiona Johnson deserves a mention for her performance as Meggie McGregor; the mother of Callum trying desperately to keep her family together. Her performance possessed a quite naturalism which was devastatingly effective in the more emotional scenes. Whilst some of the cast occasionally came slightly too close to melodrama to be truly convincing Johnson maintained a more subtle performance.

The staging and use of space was less effective. University productions are often limited by budget and space so scenes such as the demolition of a shopping centre require a level of creativity. Noughts and Crosses handled this scene well; the lighting and sound effects made it clear what had occurred. Unfortunately the execution scene was not quite as successful. Even Elwin’s acting could not convince me he had been hung when his silhouette was clearly visible, creeping off stage, noose dangling limply from his neck. The asides within the script were similarly jarring. Though as the actors warmed up they became more natural they never quite flowed with the play. However the use of set was creative; the McGregor’s kitchen table particularly. The play opened with the family presenting a united front, sharing a meal. By the end of the first half the family had fractured and this was reflected in the staging. Jude (Angus de Wilton) and his father Ryan (Chris Mannino) had moved to the opposite end of stage leaving Meggie alone at the table and Callum caught awkwardly in between his mother and father.

The pace picked up after an occasionally flat first half and the second part of the play did not pull its punch’s. However this increase in pace and emotion was let down by the ending. The production was bowling along towards a powerful finale only for it to peter out into an anti-climax. The last scene with Sephy and her baby should have been more powerful; representing the fragile dream that one day noughts and crosses may live together in peace. Instead as Sephy sat there, silently rocking her baby whilst the news reporter had the final word the ending seemed more dismal. Perhaps this was a deliberate choice by the cast and director but personally I felt the sense of tragedy would have been conveyed more powerfully through Sephy’s defiance than her defeat. Nonetheless I did enjoy most of the play. It had some pretty heavy themes to handle; racism, terrorism and teen pregnancy being but few and the cast dealt with them sensitively. Considering mine, and others, fierce devotion to the original books no play would ever be perfect. However this production was predominantly enjoyable and if you have read the books worth seeing if only to enjoy the trip down memory lane.

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