BBC Radio 4, 25 February 2012
First published in 2001, Noughts and Crosses tells the story
of the black Sephy (Zawe Ashton), the daughter of a leading politician (Jude Akuwudike), who has known the white Callum (Rikki
Lawton), ever since they were children, when Callum's mother worked for Sephy's family. The only snag is that Callum is a
Nought - a second-class citizen - while Sephy is a Cross, a member of the social elite. Their relationship develops, and is
largely tolerated until a bomb goes off. Politics takes precedence, and Sephy's family does their level best to force
the lovers to part.
Janice Okoh's adaptation was at heart an updated version of Romeo and Juliet,
involving lovers from two different backgrounds whose affair could "never run smooth." The production took a racist stereotype
(whites consider themselves 'superior' to blacks) and turned it on its head; by doing so Okoh showed how destructive racism
could be at both the political and personal and political levels. As a member of the Noughts, Calum was automatically
branded a violent thug who despoiled Sephy simply by associating with her.
Noughts and Crosses also showed how the Noughts' attitudes were dictated
by self-interest: there was an interesting echo of Priestley's An Inspector Calls in the way Sephy's family dealt
with Calum and his mother.
The story itself was told by Calum and Sephy addressing their comments direct to
listeners; by this method Okoh showed how little control they had over their own destinies. Even though their love survived,
they were doomed to remain separate.
The story might have been a familiar, but Noughts and Crosses gave it a
savage twist. Racism still runs rife in contemporary Britain (witness the recent disturbances surrounding the trial of a group
of men in Rochdale, Lancashire), and continues to destroy individuals' lives.