From the co-creator of viral web series #HoodDocumentary, Tyrell Williams’ Red Pitch follows the highs and lows of best friends Omz, Bilal and Joey as they try to realise their football dreams against the gentrification of their community.
The majority of the play is set in Red Pitch, a South London football pitch evoked in Amelia Jane Hankin’s set design by the presence of two on-stage bleachers, in which audience members could sit so that the Holloway Theatre was transformed into a theatre-in-the-round. On the one hand, the fact that the majority of the play’s scenes are set in Red Pitch is obvious: the central question of the play is whether Omz, Bilal and Joey will be selected in the upcoming Queens Park Rangers trials, and so the majority of the scenes see the friends training and refining their football skills.
On the other hand, Red Pitch is also symbolic of the community spaces fast disappearing from the boys’ South London community: over the course of the play, a community hall is closed, and the boys discuss how their blocks of flats are gradually getting demolished to make way for new (and more expensive) housing. With the disappearance of these community spaces, there is also an erasure of the history of this South London community – the boys discuss, for example, how a bloodstain on the wall of Red Pitch was formed in a fight that took place years ago. If Red Pitch gets built over, this story, like so many others, will be entirely erased.
Perhaps, Williams’ play in itself, then, should be understood as an act of protest: by writing about a community already fast disappearing, Williams memorialises it and prevents it from being entirely erased. Indeed, this would be supported by Khalil Madovi’s sound design in which scene transitions were punctuated by protest chants against gentrification.
In themselves, the individual scenes of Red Pitch are excellently crafted. Each scene is sustained by the contrasting objectives of Omz (played by Francis Lovehall), Joey (played by Emeka Sesay) and Bilal (played by Kedar Williams-Stirling), and it is clear that Williams has insightfully observed how young boys talk to each other. Lovehall, Sesay and Williams-Stirling brilliantly evoke the youthful energy and friendship between the boys – this was, perhaps, best showcased in the party scene where the boys really bruk it down! The actors truly make Williams’ words sing, really bringing out the comedy of the script and delivering any thought-provoking analyses of gentrification as casual remarks that seem to naturally fall out the boys’ mouths.
Perhaps, at times, the overall narrative arc of the play seemed to be lacking. A lot of the play’s drama, for example, occurred offstage. However, this also meant that the audience’s focus was always unavoidably on the relationship between these three boys. While, with a lesser cast, this could lead to a fairly unengaging play, the performances of Lovehall, Sesay and Williams-Stirling were consistently charismatic and surprising, and, with Daniel Bailey’s direction, found interesting ways to elevate Williams’ words, leading to one of the most engaging plays I’ve seen in a while.
Despite overall being impressed with the actors’ performances, I have to admit I was surprised to learn that the boys were supposed to be sixteen. While the actors’ physicality went some way to portraying this – for example, Lovehall and Williams-Stirling consistently had their hands down their joggers – the actors could, perhaps, have done more to reflect the slightly frantic, less-centred energy of adolescence. Growing up, teenage boys I knew were rarely as comfortable in themselves physically as the actors portrayed, but perhaps that’s just my experience.
Really, though, any of these criticisms are just pernickety. I came away from Red Pitch raving to my friends about the show. Through taut acting and a politically incisive script, Red Pitch was a truly energising play and, as I took the train home, I could very much imagine Omz, Bilal and Joey in the landscapes around me. This is a provocative play that humanises the potentially abstract process of gentrification, and another great programming choice by the Bush Theatre team.
‘Red Pitch’ plays at the Bush Theatre until 26th March. Book tickets and find out more here.