Red Pitch review – football, friendship and the fear of being left behind | Theatre

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Actors Kedar Williams-Stirling, Emeka Sesay and Francis Lovehall. Writer Tyrell Williams. All names to remember, who have created this fierce, affectionate, effortlessly funny play. Set in a fading football ground in south London, it isn’t really about the game. It’s about gentrification, change, ambition and the fear of being left behind. Most of all, it’s about friendship.

Daniel Bailey’s production buzzes with energy but is also understated, relaxed and peculiarly real. As these three 16-year-old black boys practise religiously for their football trials, but essentially just chat, tease and genuinely look out for each other, the artifice of acting almost disappears. A warm and involved atmosphere emerges, as if we the spectators (on bleachers surrounding the stage) are merely an unseen extension of their lives.

Sesay’s Joey is the sensible one. With football trials just around the corner, he dreams of making it big but is taking a course in business – just in case. There’s a frantic energy about Bilal, played by Sex Education’s Williams-Stirling, and his desire to succeed feels as much about fear as it does about hope. Lovehall’s Omz is the only one determined not to leave the neighbourhood and who, in a particularly lovely scene, herds his imaginary kids (“one for every day of the week”) around Red Pitch stadium.

Kedar Williams-Stirling, Francis Lovehall and Emeka Sesay.
Peculiarly real atmosphere … Kedar Williams-Stirling, Francis Lovehall and Emeka Sesay. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

Williams’s first full-length play shares a similar wit and focus to his viral web series #HoodDocumentary. Meticulously mined details hold his script together (the structure isn’t perfect) and create a convincing bond between these friends. They share jokes that stretch back years and have epic feuds about Twix bars and tropical juice. They dance as one. When they fight, it draws gasps from the audience – not shock at the violence but fear for what they stand to lose if they leave each other, and their neighbourhood, behind.



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