Red Pitch

Reviewer's Rating

‘Red Pitch’ was a huge success last year, winning several awards for all aspects of the original production. It returns now for a short run back at the Bush Theatre with the original cast who fizz with the same kinetic energy, comic bravura and authentic teenage angst, all set against a backcloth of uneasy urban regeneration.

The setting is a South London housing estate that is in the process of being redeveloped one block after another. An impressive soundtrack by Khalil Madovi, at once insistent and discreet, hints at continuous construction work, punctuated by community protests; and while the three sixteen-year olds at the centre of the action try to ignore social change, it is clear that the gradual erosion of their relationships is wrapped up in the broader dissolution of a traditional community.

Bilal, Omz and Joey are three friends obsessed by football, and we encounter them practising their moves and ‘tekkers’ on the estate fooball ground – ‘Red Pitch.’ This is brilliantly recreated for us by Amelia Jan Hankin’s set, which places the audience in the bleachers in the round and recreates the down-at-heel, graffiti covered milieu with precision. Tyrell Williams’ dialogue is brilliantly authentic, punchy and funny, establishing back-story and character with graceful ease. Banter, rivalries, anxieties, ambitions and dreams tumble out in convincing local patois so that in no time we are thoroughly engrossed in their preparations for the team trials at QPR. Inevitably there are winners and losers in the process and disruptive changes follow for all, as in any coming-of-age drama.

Structurally, the play has some weaknesses. Some themes come around a few too many times and after the outcome of the football trials the play loses some energy and struggles to find its way to an ending. However such is the strength and high-octane energy of the production that you really don’t notice such issues until afterwards. The abiding impression is of a superb cast at the top of their game, fully plausible as teenagers and talented footballers. A special tribute should probably go to the movement and fight directors, Dickson Mbi, Ricardo Da Silva and Kev McCurdy, who ensure that the training sequences are totally believable, the stylised interludes symbolically effective, and the fight sequences uncomfortably realistic – the latter producing some genuine gasps of surprise from the press night audience.

But this play’s success ultimately rests with its three superb actors, who both individually and as a team are remarkable. Kedar Williams-Stirling captures Bilal’s intensity of focus on football, later revealed as part of a complicated relationship with his father. Francis Lovehall embodies the emotional complexities of Omz, who has to carry caring responsibilities way beyond his age, and Emeka Sesay, as Joey, provides a contrasting portrait of someone much more happy-go-lucky and relaxed in himself. Their characterisations are carefully assembled in physical and verbal layers so that later revelations seem both a surprise and inevitable at one and the same time.

It is rare and heartening to be at a press night that is full of young people who from their reactions clearly felt this play spoke to and for them. The production works wonderfully well in the theatre, but it cries out to be filmed too, and it is to be hoped that it will therefore find even wider audiences in the future.