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Red Pitch

  • Theatre, Drama
  • @sohoplace, Soho
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Red Pitch, @sohoplace, 2024
Photo: Helen Murray
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Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

A well-deserved transfer for Tyrell Williams’s brilliant debut play about three young footballers on a gentrifying London estate

Tyrell Williams’s debut ‘Red Pitch’ – transferring to the West End from the Bush with a million ‘best play’ awards in its wake – is so good that it might make you like football. It’ll certainly make you like the three boys who spend their days kicking ball on their south London estate’s concrete pitch, dreaming of playing for a big team, and gassing about the big things in a 16-year-old’s life (football).

There’s lots to say about how the dialogue is like the game itself, lines set up and built on and passed to the next player, and how director Daniel Bailey brings a manager’s eye to the production, turning the actors into a tight, three-strong team, who move around each other like players on a pitch, all support and trust. But the point really is that it’s a brilliant bit of writing about gentrification, friendship, masculinity and aspiration, without ever being heavy-handed.

As Omz, Bilal and Joey meet up on Red Pitch, holding onto the certainty of playground rules – last to touch the ball goes to get it etc – they charge towards a future that seems very uncertain. In the background is the regeneration of the estate: some families are moving but, some are staying with the hope that it’ll make ends better.

For Francis Lovehall’s Omz the regeneration might mean the lift starts working again so his 81-year-old grandad doesn’t have to climb five flights of stairs. For Bilal (Kedar Williams-Stirling) and goalie Joey (Emeka Sesay) it’s a new start somewhere nicer, maybe with a garden. What Williams does so skilfully is to have this whopping theme of, you know, all of society in the background – Khalil Madovi’s sound design provides a quiet but persistent pattern of drilling and hammering – without the teenagers understanding that they’re dealing with this big theme, without ever encroaching on their innocence, or hammering the audience with political screed-mongering.

It’s one of those plays, too, where there’s some kind of alchemy between writer, director and actors. The way the trio move constantly, passing the ever-present ball, circling each other and chatting draws you into their private world. There are line deliveries that you don’t know where they could have come from, absolutely inspired in their comedy.

And as well as all the motion and physical language of the production, there’s a sense of restraint too: the boys only actually touch twice: once when they brutally scrap – a brilliantly full-on fight, and really rare to see something so convincing and dangerous-looking onstage – and once at the end when they huddle and touch their foreheads together in a moment of reconciliation and solidarity.

There are a couple of moments of padding, which look great – we switch to quasi-fantasy scenes as the boys dream of their certain fame, with strobe lights and huge crowds cheering – but aren’t really necessary. The play’s at its best when we’re simply in the company of the boys, sharing their anxiety for the future and living their joy in the present.

Written by
Tim Bano

Details

Address:
@sohoplace
4
Soho Place
London
W1D 3BG
Price:
£25-£65. Runs 1hr 20min

Dates and times

14:30@sohoplace £25-£65. Runs 1hr 20min
19:30@sohoplace £25-£65. Runs 1hr 20min
19:30@sohoplace £25-£65. Runs 1hr 20min
19:30@sohoplace £25-£65. Runs 1hr 20min
14:30@sohoplace £25-£65. Runs 1hr 20min
19:30@sohoplace £25-£65. Runs 1hr 20min
19:30@sohoplace £25-£65. Runs 1hr 20min
19:30@sohoplace £25-£65. Runs 1hr 20min
14:30@sohoplace £25-£65. Runs 1hr 20min
19:30@sohoplace £25-£65. Runs 1hr 20min
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