Tyrell Williams’ Red Pitch has taken the theatre scene by storm. With five major awards under its belt already, I had high hopes going into Bush Theatre. Tyrell Williams has been part of the virtual zeitgeist since 2015 when he co-created, co-wrote, and directed the viral web series, #HoodDocumentary. Williams has since turned his attention to the issues that contextualise the coming-of-age stories of today’s kids. Williams does not reinvent the wheel with a straightforward plot. But with hilarious banter and conflicts with high stakes, he doesn’t have to.
During the preamble, I see the three stars practising some extravagant passes between each other. They encourage the front rows of the audience to kick the ball back to them and clap along when they dance. They foster a lively hum among us, letting us know that we’d be players rather than mere spectators. With the Off West End ‘Best New Play’ award at the front of my mind, this trio did not disappoint.
Joey (Emeka Sesay), Bilal (Kedar Williams-Stirling), and Omz (Francis Lovehall) are thinking about the next stage of their lives. Each has a plan B but all of them are holding out hope for a chance to become professional footballers. They dream about their path to success at Red Pitch, their local court in South London. When their coach calls giving them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to trial for QPR, the pressure sets in. All of a sudden, the sheltered world of adolescence shatters and the changing London landscape puts their friendship to the test.
Their local Morleys closes, beloved shops close, another luxury high-rise stamps out council flats, and incessant gentrification sparks daily protests. The famous house parties that used to bring everyone together dwindle down to one final motive. Gentrification snaps at the boys’ feet, forcing them to weigh their options straight after school. Everyone they know is looking north or to the Home Counties and the fear of getting left behind looms over Bilal and Omz.
This is not a debut performance for any of the actors and their command of the stage is obvious. Many of us are already familiar with Williams-Stirling, in particular from his role as Jackson in Sex Education. Having already established himself as a vivacious actor with a strong dramatic presence, he portrays the highs of unbridled ambition and lows of family pressure and monumental change with the unrelenting intensity of a 16-year-old boy. Sesay’s relatively understated Joey holds his own masterfully against bombastic Bilal and Omz the firecracker. As Joey and Omz butt heads over class disparity and gentrification, Sesay handles these awkward lulls in dialogue with patience and empathy.
Lovehall especially thrived in this play. Omz is a cynical, short-tempered boys with a lot on his plate. Stuck as the sole caregiver of his granddad and little brother, the idea of leaving South London is unthinkable. Both fixed in his place with the increasing urgency to leave, his emotions often get the better of him. However, Lovehall does not let us lose him to his shortcomings and we still end up adoring him. In Omz, we see the tragedy of a kid trying to play a bad hand with the same ambition as his Gucci-sporting mates.
Bringing an ecstatic energy to the stage, whether at the peak of a house party or the bitter jealousy of the friend that made it out, Red Pitch is a crucial story for the contemporary London scene. This new coming-of-age play delves into the atomisation and isolation of society and the friendships that struggle as a result.
Words by Elizabeth Sorrell
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