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Star-crossed lovers centre stage over prejudice and power

PUBLISHED: 16:27 27 March 2008 | UPDATED: 13:09 05 October 2010

Malorie Blackman (top) and the Royal Shakespeare's Oney Uhiara playing Sephy (left) and Richard Madden as Callum

Malorie Blackman (top) and the Royal Shakespeare's Oney Uhiara playing Sephy (left) and Richard Madden as Callum

THE themes of racism and prejudice are explored by the Royal Shakespeare Company in a production for youngsters at the Hackney Empire, opening on Tuesday (April 1). Noughts and Crosses is based on Naughts and Crosses, a novel by best-selling children's author Malorie Blackman

By Victoria Huntley

THE themes of racism and prejudice are explored by the Royal Shakespeare Company in a production for youngsters at the Hackney Empire, opening on Tuesday (April 1).

Noughts and Crosses is based on a novel by Malorie Blackman, the best-selling and award-winning author of children's books.

Her hugely popular novel Noughts and Crosses has been adapted for the stage by Dominic Cooke, Royal Court theatre artistic director.

It's the first Royal Shakespeare performance at the Empire, the love story of two young people kept apart by prejudice and injustice, adapted for the stage by their former associate director Dominic Cooke.

The play follows the tragic tale of Sephy, a Prime Minister's daughter from the powerful Crosses, who falls for rebel Callum, the son of a dangerous Nought radical.

Their desire to be together threatens family loyalties and sparks a growing political crisis in what Malorie calls 'a modern-day Romeo and Juliet.'

"Noughts and Crosses is about seeing the world through another person's eyes and the understanding that can bring," she says.

"It's about putting yourself in another person's place, walking in their shoes for a while to experience their lives.

"It's not about losing your own identity or culture, but tackling the ignorance about other cultures which leads to fear and worse.

"Young people are more open-minded about appreciating other cultures as they are still learning about the world.

"What's more, they know that."

The 46-year-old author, who has written other children's books including Pig Heart Boy, Hacker, A.N.T.I.D.O.T.E. and Thief!, knew immediately that Dominic Cooke's stage adaptation would work.

"I liked the fact that he was going to take the story and make it his own," she explains.

"The script isn't the same as the book, nor should it try to be.

"But I really do feel that they complement each other.

"I love what Dominic has done to it."

Watching a live play gives a sense of intimacy that a book or screened performance cannot provide, Malorie claims.

"I love the theatre and always have done," she tells you.

"There's something so much more immediate about seeing a drama performed on stage.

"Seeing it acted out before you is always going to be different to reading the book, where all the drama takes place inside your head.

"Going to the theatre is more than just seeing the drama on stage. It's also a chance to share the experience with the others in the audience. That's what makes it so special."

Malorie's readers have adopted Noughts and Crosses main characters as their own. She hopes to recruit more fans through the stage adaptation.

"The letters I receive show readers like the characters of Callum and Sephy," she adds. "They can recognise them and believe in them as real people, which is flattering for me.

"I tried to create three-dimensional characters who had their faults as well as qualities that the reader could like and empathise with.

"I must admit, I do like books with a strong plot, so those are the types of books I try to write. I like stories where things happen!"

Malorie is currently working on the fourth in the Noughts and Crosses series, called Double Cross.

Noughts and Crosses runs at the Hackney Empire from Tuesday (April 1) to Saturday (April 5).

Tickets: £12-£20 from 020-8985 2424, or online:

www.hackneyempire.co.uk.

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Malorie Blackman is at the Hackney Empire in Mare Street from 11.30am Saturday week, April 5, signing copies of books in the Noughts and Crosses series (Corgi Books).

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