'Red Pitch' review – this nimble play scores with its celebration of friendship

Read our four-star review of football drama Red Pitch, by Tyrell Williams, now in performances at the Bush Theatre to 30 September.

Matt Wolf
Matt Wolf

Tyrell Williams scored a blinder early in 2022 with his football-themed play Red Pitch, which has returned for a limited three-week run at the Bush Theatre, its blazing original cast of three intact.

Seen afresh, the play confirms Williams’s ability to construct an entire world from the often-throwaway remarks of a trio of Black British teenage males who are as inclined to expound on takeaway chicken from Camberwell as they are the gathering concerns (girls/career/family) that they’re having to confront.

Like James Graham’s more recent Dear England, you don’t have to know anything about football to become immediately engaged in the aspirations of these three inhabitants of the titular “red pitch”, the south London patch now threatened by gentrification.

Khalil Modavi’s sound design expertly hints at the steady pace of regeneration that keeps these lads on their toes no less fully than the ball playing that brings them together on Amelia Jane Hankin’s pitch-perfect set.

The play works as both a striking portrait of friendship rent asunder but also reinforced, and as a separate enquiry into a community under threat. You’re soon aware of the extended social network – an unseen grandfather, for one – that informs these adolescents’ lives and of the hairpin turns between camaraderie and cruelty that are part of anyone’s growing pains.

The original production won an Evening Standard Theatre Award last December and was a subsequent Olivier nominee, losing out in that latter category to another Bush Theatre premiere, Waleed Akhtar’s The P Word.

Indeed, the heady roll the Bush is on at the moment underscores the return of Red Pitch, whose reopening was accompanied by a joyous party at a new writing theatre that certainly has a lot to celebrate. (Their forthcoming line-up of work is mouth-watering.)

In a play about male bonding, it’s heartening to note the continued devotion to the material of the director Daniel Bailey’s astonishing cast, who can be forgiven a press night excitability that sometimes sacrificed clarity on the altar of sheer enthusiasm.

It’s been many a year since I’ve seen stage fighting as viscerally realised as the tensions that here boil over. Simmering until they explode, these emotions-made-flesh occur under the watchful eye of fight director Kev McCurdy and are amplified elsewhere by Dickson Mbi’s skill at making incipient pros of these footballer wannabes.

The actors give themselves over entirely to material by which you can tell they’re deeply moved – which is all the more reason for Williams to consider expanding this 90-minute theatrical miniature into something larger and more complexly layered for the screen.

First amongst equals is surely Francis Lovehall as the sweet-faced, quietly fretful Omz, who proffers juice to his mate Bilal (a buoyant Kedar Williams-Sterling, from TV’s Sex Education) like the proverbial olive branch.

Weighed down by family pressures he can barely articulate, Lovehall’s Omz – short for Omar – is the livewire centre of a whirligig of talent completed by Emeka Sesay as the kindly Joey. The actors very occasionally break the fourth wall to shake a playgoer’s hand, which sets the evening up nicely for the roaring ovation at the end.

Red Pitch is at the Bush Theatre through 30 September. Book Red Pitch tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: Red Pitch (Photo by Helen Murray)

Originally published on

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