Artistic Director of Pilot Theatre, Esther Richardson, got off to a strong start directing their popular production of Brighton Rock last year. Her next project, an adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s novel Noughts and Crosses, is heading to the Theatre Royal Brighton this month: we spoke to Esther ahead of the run.
Noughts and Crosses is set in a segregated society, which is a fictional dystopian version of the UK. The story is very similar to Romeo & Juliet: it’s a love story. It’s about a boy called Callum, who is a Nought, and the Noughts in this segregated society are white people. He’s grown up with a Cross, who is a black girl called Sephy. The Crosses are the dominant culture and they happen to be black. It’s a really exciting story: there’s high drama in it.
Putting it on stage is quite challenging because there’s just so many events. It’s so tightly and brilliantly plotted in the original that we felt that we needed to just embrace that and go for it. To trust in the story, trust in its wonderful structure, and try to find a way through the form of theatre to make that live on stage and feel like you’re kind of on a rollercoaster.
What’s been brilliant about the younger performers is that they’re so keyed into the themes of the book, politically especially. This new generation – people in their twenties and teenagers – are really aware of these kind of topics around privilege. They’re aware of identity politics, whereas older generations are still learning about this stuff. And then we have four seasoned professional actors, who have a special skill in understanding how to make a show like this, such as how to be playful and create a performance that might be based around multiple characters.
What surprised me, or what I was awoken, to was how important this book is to young black women. I felt that the starting point was to tour the play around the regions, because it’s an important text to awaken you to your white privilege. It’s equally important to young black people, and young black women in particular. When we announced it on Twitter, the vast majority of people who were getting hugely excited about it were black women aged about 18 to 35. The penny really dropped about how important it was to that audience.
I’ve been Artistic Director of Pilot since August 2016, and if you cast your mind back that was that annus horribilis year of Brexit, Jo Cox being murdered and the election of Trump. A quite extraordinary series of events, all within about four months. After the Brexit vote, it seemed like overnight the xenophobic and racist attacks [rose]: it’s like the lid was taken off some very dark aspects of British identity behaviour. I’d already mooted the idea in my interview of doing Noughts and Crosses [before those events], but as that year went on it became more and more relevant. It’s imperative that we do this project as soon as we can.
Photo by Robert Day
Theatre Royal, 19th – 23rd, 2.30pm/7.45pm