By Paul T Davies

Marjorie Blackman’s classic novel for young people is brought vividly to the stage in this production by Pilot Theatre, adapted by Sabrina Mahfouz.

The Noughts are, literally, treated as nothing, not entitled to education or the same rights as the ruling Crosses, forbidden to have mobile phones and they are denied equal education. Until, that is, three Noughts are allowed to attend a Cross school, beginning to deny the segregation the children have grown up with. Sound familiar? Well, yes and no, because in Blackman’s anti-Apartheid analogy the Crosses are black people and the noughts are the whites.

With the Mercury Theatre being one of the co-producers, this is a skilled production of a complex, dark tale, and it doesn’t shy away from the issues raised. At its heart is the familiar “star crossed lovers” scenario, with Sephy, a Cross, and Callum, a Nought, friends since childhood, falling in love and their relationship tested when Callum attends her school. What follows is an story of escalating violence as a terrorist group is set up to liberate the Noughts, involving Callum’s brother and father.

The company work superbly as an ensemble, and even though Heather Agyepong and Billy Harris lead the narration well as Sephy and Callum, there is no standout performance, the company of eight smoothly evolving through their multiple roles. Director Esther Richardson keeps things tight and moving, and the excellent sound and lighting design, together with good video technology, move the story confidentially on from one scene to the next.

As with many novel adaptations, however, there is a huge amount of exposition, especially in an overlong first half, and, for me, things were pretty static until a bomb went off in the local shopping centre, and here the physicality went up a notch. But here’s the success of this show; in an auditorium of school parties the audience of teenagers were hushed and gripped throughout. Sadly, these young people have witness terrorist attacks on our streets and are calling out racism constantly.

To get them off their phones and to immerse them in the world of theatre is an achievement to be applauded as loudly as they did at the end of the show.

It runs until Saturday, March 9. For tickets call 01206 573948.