Red Pitch review: Tyrell Williams’s debut play celebrates friendship in the face of gentrification

The play is a triumphant take on flux and football in a fast-changing south London neighbourhood

<p>From L-R: Francis Lovehall, Kedar Williams-Stirling and Emeka Sesay in ‘Red Pitch’ </p>

From L-R: Francis Lovehall, Kedar Williams-Stirling and Emeka Sesay in ‘Red Pitch’

What happens when your “ends” are no longer yours? It’s a question posed more and more as gentrification sweeps across the UK, “transforming” struggling areas and driving out long-time residents in the process. In south London, three 16-year-old boys – Omz (Francis Lovehall), Joey (Emeka Sesay) and de facto leader Bilal (Sex Education’s Kedar Williams-Stirling) – are beginning to see its harrowing effects. Dry cleaners are boarded up, favourite chicken shops are now Costa Coffees (“Rah, there ain’t no wings here,” Joey laments) and their friends are moving to cheaper areas because of rising rents. They play football and dream of becoming Premier League icons as the drills of construction work hum in the background like a death knell.

As the audience files into Bush Theatre, the teenagers are already on the pitch and training hard. Football is the catalyst for the action in the first play from Tyrell Williams (best known for BBC Three mockumentary #HoodDocumentary) but you can hate the sport and love this production. Sure, there are the odd references to England’s Jadon Sancho and French star Kylian Mbappe, but football facts and lingo are minimal and the show never feels inaccessible. At its heart, instead, is the trio’s friendship. Between them, everything is a competition. Happiness and anger are clearly linked, with celebration turning to fighting and back again in seconds, making for a clear commentary on modern masculinity.

On stage, the three leads feel totally at ease with each other. They chew on their silver chains and their hands never move from the waistband of their joggers. Under the direction of the Bush Theatre’s associate artistic director Daniel Bailey, there’s barely a moment of silence, with laugh-out-loud dialogue overlapping as each boy fights to have the last say. Sesay, in particular, shines in these pacey moments. With everything feeling so natural, the odd moments of exposition seem a little clunky, with context unnecessarily signposted during discussions of the teenagers’ families. Initially, it appears as though love is exclusively reserved for blood relations, but beneath the bravado there is real feeling between the boys. Yes, they fight and tease, but tenderness pervades in unexpected ways – Omz sharing his Twix with Bilal as an apology, or Joey lending Omz his Gucci belt so he can impress a girl at a party.

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