Pilot Theatre to revive Noughts & Crosses at York Theatre Royal and on autumn tour

Heather Agyepong as Sephy in Pilot Theatre’s Noughts & Crosses at York Theatre Royal last April . Picture: Robert Day

YORK company Pilot Theatre will revive their award-winning 2019 production of Noughts & Crosses for an autumn tour.

This announcement comes amid the blaze of publicity for BBC One’s six-part adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s young adult novel, filmed in South Africa, that began earlier this week.

Sabrina Mahfouz’s stage version of a modern-day Romeo & Juliet tale of first love in a dangerous fictional dystopia will be directed once more by Pilot artistic director Esther Richardson, whose co-production of Crongton Knights played York Theatre Royal from February 25 to 29 on Pilot’s latest tour.

“We’re delighted that this show, which was nominated for best show for children and young people at UK Theatre Awards, is returning later this year,” says Esther. “It’s wonderful that even more young people can experience this production and that Pilot will be able to tour to areas of England that we haven’t visited, thanks to the support of Arts Council England.”

Class act: more than school friends Sephy (Heather Agyepong) and Callum (Billy Harris) in Noughts And Crosses last year.

Noughts & Crosses will open at the York theatre in a September 11 to 19 run before embarking on a national tour until late-November.   

Told from the perspectives of two teenagers, Sephy and Callum, Blackman’s love story set in a volatile, racially segregated society, where black (the Crosses) rules over white (the Noughts), as she explores the powerful themes of love, revolution and what it means to grow up in a divided world. 

Sabrina Mahfouz’s adaptation for teenagers is based on Blackman’s first book in the Noughts & Crosses series for young adults, winner of the Red House Children’s Book Award and the Fantastic Fiction Award, among other accolades. 

Noughts & Crosses was produced by Pilot Theatre, York Theatre Royal, Derby Theatre, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, and the Mercury Theatre, Colchester, as the first show in a new partnership to develop theatre for younger audiences. This is the consortium behind the aforementioned tour of  Emteaz Hussain’s adaptation of Alex Wheatle’s Crongton Knights.

Pilot Theatre artistic director Esther Richardson

Last year, Noughts & Crosses won the Excellence in Touring award at the UK Theatre Awards, when also nominated for Best Show for Children and Young People. 

As with Crongton Knights, schools workshops and outreach projects, along with free digital learning resources, will be available alongside the autumn production of Noughts & Crosses

Casting will be announced in the coming months. Tickets for the York run are on sale on 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.

Here is a precis of Charles Hutchinson’s review of Pilot Theatre’s Noughts & Crosses at York Theatre Royal, printed in The Press, York, in April 2019.

“ESTHER Richardson proposed Noughts & Crosses when pitching for Pilot’s artistic directorship after Marcus Romer headed south, and her passion for Malorie Blackman’s twist on a Romeo & Juliet story is writ large in her telling of Sabrina Mahfouz’s electrifying adaptation.

Heather Agyepong’s Sephy in Noughts & Crosses last year

“In Blackman’s Britain, Noughts are the white underlings; no orange juice; milk only on Fridays; no mobile phones; second-rate secondary education. Crosses are the black ruling class; apartheid divisions turned on their head.

“Never the twain shall meet on equal terms, except that Nought Callum (Billy Harris), 15, and Cross Sephy (Heather Agyepong), 14, have been friends throughout childhood, meeting secretly on her family’s private beach.

Sephy’s father, Kamal Hadley (Chris Jack), is the Home Secretary; Callum’s mum, Meggie (Lisa Howard), is the Hadley family’s housekeeper. When Callum is one of three Nought teens granted a place at Sephy’s Crosses-only school, how will it affect their relationship?

“Blackman depicts a fractious, tinderbox world: Sephy’s mum Jasmine (Doreene Blackstock) is an alcoholic, neglected by her preoccupied husband; Callum’s dad Ryan (Daniel Copeland) and brother Jude (Jack Condon) are Liberation Militia freedom fighters. Callum’s sister, so damaged in an assault, has curled up in a ball ever since.

Pilot Theatre cast members in a scene in Noughts & Crosses

“As with Pilot’s first hit, Lord Of The Flies, our ability to destroy rather than create bonds, to repeatedly take the wrong turn, lies at the heart of Blackman’s damning, bleak vision that haunts us still more in intolerant Brexit Britain.

“Sephy and Callum express a wish for a better world, one where we rub along with each other, but this is a rotten Britain of death sentences, an intransigent Home Secretary, thwarted love across the divide.

“Given the bold imagination of Blackman’s novel for young adults with its heroine figure of a bright black teenage girl, you might wish she had come up with a similarly bold answer to so many ultimately familiar woes.

“Alas not, but this is nevertheless a superb production with good performances all round, plenty of punch in the direction, and high-quality set, lighting, sound, music and video design.”