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Review: Noughts & Crosses at The Alexandra in Birmingham

Malorie Blackman's teen novel about star-crossed lovers in a racially segregated world took the world by storm when it hit the shelves in 2001.

Sephy and Callum in Noughts & Crosses
Sephy and Callum in Noughts & Crosses

Now, fans of the smash hit series can see Sephy and Callum's fateful love story come to life as Noughts & Crosses plays at The Alexandra in Birmingham this week.

Noughts & Crosses is set in an alternative 21st-century Britain, a racially segregated society where noughts (lighter-skinned people) are oppressed by crosses (darker-skinned people).

Although slavery has long been outlawed, noughts are unable to have passports, cannot access prestigious schools or jobs, and "blanker" is a vicious slur wielded by crosses.

Sephy, the cross daughter of the UK's home secretary, and Callum, a nought whose mother used to work for Sephy's family, grow up together, oblivious to the divisions engrained in society.

As they reach their mid-teens, Sephy's father, Kamal Hadley, introduces legislation which allows the most intelligent noughts to attend cross schools.

While becoming classmates seems like a dream, the move is just the start of a growing chasm between the pair, who grow further and further apart with tragic consequences.

Can their love survive such a violent and divided world? Can they even begin to understand the turmoil of each other's lives?

Sabrina Mahfouz's script brings Malorie Blackman's world vividly to life and is clearly aimed at the target demographic for the story, young people.

Our protagonists have long soliloquies imbued with a steam of consciousness, unveiling their turbulent, tormented thoughts to the audience.

Effie Ansah plays Sephy as a good-hearted but naive teenager, eager to solve the racial hierarchy that is actively perpetuated by her father.

She bubbles over with enthusiasm and goodwill and is an easy character to root for, and you feel like she's a close friend when she confides in the audience about her feelings for Callum.

It's satisfying to see her grow a lion's heart throughout the story, developing a spine of steel as she navigates heartbreak and trauma.

James Arden's Callum has a more drastic arc, moulded by the tragedies that befall his family. At the start, he is hopeful and ambitious, entertaining a dream of becoming the first nought to go to university.

While he hopes to transcend his upbringing and make a better life for himself, he grows gradually disenfranchised and bitter about the hand life has dealt him.

When his brother Jude is radicalised by the Liberation Militia, which strives for equality for noughts through violent means, his family is swept into an inexorably tragic path.

Sephy and Callum's chemistry is palpable, and the whoops and cheers (and a good "go on" comment) from the predominantly young audience when they finally kiss is clear evidence of this.

It's this chemistry, this impassioned love, which makes the tormented world and its consequent disasters so utterly heartbreaking.

Noughts & Crosses is at The Alexandra until Saturday. Tickets can be booked online at ATG, by calling 0333 009 6690, or at the box office in person.

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