In 2013 the author Malorie Blackman became the UK’s first black Children’s Laureate.
A prolific reader in childhood, she said that for all the books she consumed she rarely came across a black child reflected in the pages.
This month, East London youth theatre group Purple Moon Drama is staging an adaptation of Blackman’s biggest selling title, equally eager to redress the issue of black representation.
Artistic director Cheryl Walker said she hadn’t realised how popular Noughts and Crosses was until she began working on the project.
“The response we’ve had from it has been really overwhelming. I wasn’t aware what a classic childhood text it is,” she says.
Noughts and Crosses is the first book in a bestselling series which has seen Blackman become a National Curriculum recommended author, and she was even name-checked in a Tinie Tempah number one record.
What drew Walker to the text were the young, black characters in leading roles.
Coupled with contemporary themes of terrorism, oppression, and social exclusion, Walker said she felt she could make the story important for her young cast.
“It’s not art unless you’ve got something to say”, she says, asserting that her 16 young performers are more than just actors – they want to have an impact on the communities they live in.
As an actor, Walker found credible black roles hard to find. So she set up Purple Moon two years ago with the intention of handing the reins back to performers so that they might better represent their own society.
Purple Moon offers drama programmes for young people 14-25 years old irrespective of socio-economic status.
Although Walker admits that the acting profession is unfairly dominated by those lucky enough to have been afforded the education, she says this need not be a barrier.
“It’s about empowerment” she says, “giving young people confidence, and proposing the idea that there are many options available to them – as actors or otherwise.”
Because the production is being crowd-funded online, Walker feels an even stronger imperative to represent those who are supporting the endeavour.
The company rehearses at a community centre in Shadwell, sitting cheek by jowl with a housing association.
“Crowdfunding is democracy at its best,” Walker says, “appealing to the community for support we have a duty to represent them”.
Noughts and Crosses
30 April – 1 May
Brady Arts Centre, 192–196 Hanbury Street, E1 5HU