RED PITCH at the Bush Theatre
“It bubbles with slang and a million references a second”
Red Pitch is back at The Bush to much fanfare. The first time around it sold out, won awards, and received great critical acclaim. It’s easy to see why. It’s a powerhouse of a play, and refreshingly rooted in its time and place.
The show follows three boys Omz (Francis Lovehall) Bilal (Kedar Williams-Stirling, now of Sex Education fame) and Joey (Emeka Sesay) who play football together, and dream of being scouted, even as their neighbourhood is uprooted around them.
It’s a play about gentrification, and the way that communities are being torn up, the souls of areas being scrubbed away and replaced with generic chain stores and luxury housing. But it’s told through these boys’ eyes, so the developers are ‘renewing endz’ and much of the discussion circles around the shutting of a favourite chicken shop. They’re charmingly innocent. It’s fresh, but it’s still angry.
Tyrell Williams’ script is fantastic. It bubbles with slang and a million references a second, building these teens up into completely believable characters. There’s no question of who these boys are, or where they’re from. In many ways the boys are very similar, but they have very different home lives, as well as different religions and levels of affluence. They’re united by their shared dream of becoming professional football players.
Daniel Bailey’s direction is dynamic and energetic. Footballs are dribbled across the stage – there’s a shockingly intense fight (directed by Kev McCurdy), which has the audience wincing and groaning. The performance is in the round, with the stage becoming a football pitch and each block of audience as part of the stands, there is fencing and barriers between us and the performers. There are flashing lights, like at a stadium (designed by Ali Hunter). Amelia Jane Hankin’s set is bare, it’s an empty pitch. This works very well, it keeps us connected to the action, but also gives a sense of voyeurism. We are watching, and to an extent enjoying, these boys’ struggle, which is especially powerful when they are unaware of the severity of what they’re discussing.
There’s a genuine tenderness between the boys, hidden beneath layers of ribbing and banter. It’s a beautiful connection to watch develop. All three performers are very strong. Sesay’s Joey, is the most anxious of the three. He offers up backup plans in case they’re not scouted, and is the most affected by the change in ‘endz’. Sesay deftly switches between the anxious young man, and joyous teen. Williams-Stirling as Bilal is focussed entirely on the football, but his range is strong, giving us moving moments of pause and dramatic moments of comedy. Lovehall’s Omz is the joker of the gang, but also has the hardest home life. Lovehall effortlessly portrays the struggle to keep things afloat and to keep the mask of nonchalance in place.
There are moments where this fast-paced play does lose momentum. It meanders along, enjoyably, but at times a little slowly. There are movement elements, which show the boys’ aspirations, but feel incongruous with the gritty realism of the rest of the piece.
Overall though, it’s a very special play. The characters it explores are rarely seen on stage, and it’s moving to watch.
RED PITCH at the Bush Theatre
Reviewed on 11th September 2023
by Auriol Reddaway
Photography by Helen Murray
Previously reviewed at this venue: