‘Red Pitch’ at Bush Theatre Gets to the Heart of Football and Friendship

Red Pitch, playing at the Bush Theatre until March 26, is a uniquely special, must-see play. It’s not often that one gets the chance to experience a well-crafted show so hilarious, touching, authentic and highly relevant all at once. Directed by Daniel Bailey and created and written by Tyrell Williams, the play stars Kedar Williams-Stirling, Emeka Sesay and Francis Lovehall, who comprise the full (and phenomenal) cast. Set in present-day London, it’s a thoroughly entertaining and heartwarming piece of realistic fiction, which runs cohesively for 90 minutes as what feels like part sports drama, part comedy, and part coming-of-age story. It follows a few key weeks in the lives of three friends, bonded by their dreams of football stardom as they work to actualize their goals, while they and the places of their childhood – including their beloved Red Pitch – face impending change and uncertainty. This show delves into themes of identity, personal relationships, culture and religion as the characters learn about themselves and each other.

The cast, playing Bilal, Omz, and Joey, make the show as wonderful as it is; the dialogue and performances from the young actors had me in stitches and in tears throughout. From the first few minutes’ opening banter as they pass the ball back and forth, the characters are instantly likeable. Between Joey’s unifying sweetness and forward-thinking realism, Omz’s pride in and commitment to his community, and Bilal’s support of his friends and endless dedication to his footballing career, audiences are instantly pulled into their world and on to their side. The actors themselves, clearly all as talented footballers and athletes as they are performers, bring so much heart to the show that I left feeling as if the characters were my own friends. While the collective charisma and banter between the three boys creates a fun, fast-paced, and casual-feeling energy in the theatre, each actor also shines individually, showcasing immense emotion, perfectly-timed humour, and of course, some impressive ball-control skills. They are particularly skilled at utilising the inventive blocking and staging to transform the stage space into a huge pitch, and the cosy theatre into a backyard, a vast park, or a massive football stadium. 

Ali Hunter’s lighting design is phenomenal as well, contributing to the creation of the boys’ environment and deftly bringing together each setting, scene and situation with clarity and creativity. The fact that the show is essentially just three actors, one football, and great sound and lighting design makes it all the more impressive. Red Pitch makes creative use of the Bush Theatre space; it feels intimately important in an up-close-and-personal way.

I appreciated the show’s authenticity and realism as well – the well-written and passionately performed dialogue didn’t feel scripted, and I even learned some British colloquialisms. In a show revolving around teenaged characters, whom I sometimes fear being written by those who are no longer teenagers, it’s the language and phrasing, which were authentic to these characters, that made the story believable and personal. In the friendly smack-talk and shared passion for the sport, I was reminded nostalgically of the closeness of school sports teams, and of playing sand volleyball late into the night with other young people in Northern California. I again felt that hint of creeping fear and apprehension that accompanies the sense that something fun and familiar is coming to an end, especially when you don’t know what will come after. This show expertly captures the uniquely youthful realisation that you might drift apart from your childhood friends and the familiarity of home, and the experience of coming to terms with this. Red Pitch expertly captures the fun, lightheartedness, expressions of individuality, and näivety of being a teenager – as well as the doubt, conflict, confusion, anger, and fear which presents itself when you’re trying to pursue your dreams and go about daily life while the world around you is rapidly changing. The play masterfully taps into the difficulties of navigating identity as a young person amongst others who are doing the same, and the interpersonal closeness and conflicts which may result. Even more special, it highlights the friendship, perseverance, and joy shared between three young black men in a snapshot of a pivotal time in their lives. It successfully balances the emotionality of these characters’ individual stories and identities against the broader backdrop of gentrification, religion, masculinities, and rapid change in London. In doing so, Red Pitch will tap into the most thoughtful parts of your mind and most tender parts of your heart, leaving you with sentiments you’ll be happy to have experienced.

By Lauren McLane