Esther Richardson: “I hope we inspire people to be more active about challenging discrimination” - Noughts & Crosses Interview
Director, Esther Richardson gives us her thoughts and an insight into the play and the directing process for Noughts & Crosses.
What particularly interested and inspired you in making and directing a production of Noughts & Crosses for the stage?
I read Noughts and Crosses for the first time in around 2006 because I heard what a hit it was with teen readers, and I was immediately totally engrossed in the story. Of course I loved the central characters, Callum and Sephy, but most of all I found it a profoundly thought-provoking read about issues of social injustice in our society - for example, it really educated me about my privilege in being born a white person in the UK. The books left a profound impression on me.
At Pilot, as well as reaching younger theatregoers, one of the things I want to do is to make work that makes audiences think harder about philosophical, moral and political questions. I’m interested in putting powerful stories on stage that are gripping and knotty and not necessarily the easiest watch. Noughts and Crosses was therefore an obvious choice.
In relation to the central characters of Sephy and Callum, what were you looking for in terms of actors when casting these two roles in particular?
This is a really special project for Pilot (in co-production with Derby Theatre and the other partner venues) and I was looking for actors who were relatively early in their career and as passionate about the books as I am, and who would bring their own insights to the role as younger artists. This is why we did a fully open call nationally to allow anyone who wanted to try for the parts to throw their hats in the ring. Heather and Billy really understood the importance of the wider project of putting this story on stage at a time when, unfortunately, acts of racism and xenophobia seem to be on the increase. As well as, of course, being amazingly talented young actors, this made them perfect for the project.
Are there any differences when directing a production that has been adapted from another source?
Yes, because there’s a big responsibility to the underlying material especially when the book is very well known, but there’s also the responsibility to make the story live in a different form which in this case is theatre. This is in fact only the second adaptation I have ever directed (the first was Brighton Rock) so I am learning about this process, but it seems to be completely different to reviving a play or to mounting a piece of new writing or devising.
Can you talk us through your directing process and where you started from on this production?
Because I have worked so much with writers in my career, my starting point is always the dramaturgy of the show. It starts with the story, and the quest is to get to the heart of the real story, and then quickly you are into a scriptwriting process with a playwright who helps to take the difficult decisions about what to include and exclude as part of this mission. For this production, many creatives joined some months ago, so the designer (Simon Kenny), composer (Arun Ghosh) and the acting company have all been informing this process with Sabrina and I (who have been working on it since the summer of 2017). As time goes on, and new artists join, I see my job as making everyone else's work cohere, but I tend to be quite open and let artists bring their own ideas to the process and I try to work to make a meaningful whole from all the individual voices.
This production is the first in a four-year programme of work between Pilot Theatre, Derby Theatre, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Mercury Theatre Colchester and York Theatre Royal, targeted at younger audiences.
What is it about this story and this production makes it ideal for younger audiences?
It’s a love story and it’s about forbidden love, and it’s about a world in which young people are full of dreams and potential but are themselves relatively powerless to make change happen, and I think young people can always relate to this kind of story.
What has the collaboration process been like between yourself and the other creatives?
The collaboration has been really exciting and everyone has brought so much to the production. I couldn’t have wished for a better team to make Noughts and Crosses with.
What would you say are the key themes in the story and production?
Love, justice, oppression, resistance, family.
How excited are you for this production to be going on tour to other venues across the UK?
What do you hope audiences take away from this production?
I hope it’s a real talking point for people and I hope they leave the theatre wanting to really debate the questions, themes and issues the production explores. More than that, I hope it inspires people to be more thoughtful about the privileges they have in this society, and to be more active about challenging discrimination and prejudice when they encounter it.