'Red Pitch' review — Tyrell Williams's play is just what the West End needs

Read our five-star review of Red Pitch, starring Kedar Williams-Stirling, Emeka Sesay, and Francis Lovehall, now in performances at @sohoplace until 4 May.

Olivia Rook
Olivia Rook

Graffitied red railings and the stained concrete of a south London football pitch symbolise home for the three teenagers in Tyrell Williams’s perceptive and personal debut play Red Pitch, which has taken up a new residence at @sohoplace following two sold-out runs at the Bush Theatre.

Set against the backdrop of an estate, which is rapidly feeling the effects of gentrification — Morley’s Chicken has shut down, and Esme’s Dry Cleaners is next — the play focuses on the dreams and worries of local boys Bilal, Omz, and Joey, played by a talented cast who deserve equal billing.

The leap from intimate fringe venue to West End stage could have dwarfed the show, but Daniel Bailey’s production is a perfect match for @sohoplace’s immersive in-the-round stage, which positions the audience as a football crowd surrounding set designer Amelia Jane Hankin’s stripped-back pitch.

Williams’s play may be the same length as a football match, but there is no half-time break, and the three boys — played by Kedar Williams-Stirling (of Sex Education fame), Emeka Sesay, and Francis Lovehall — zip across the stage with an impressive and relentless energy, perfectly displaying the stamina of youth. All three performers capture the mannerisms of teenagers, from Omz (Lovehall) and Bilal (Williams-Stirling) slouching with their hands tucked inside their tops, to the showboating in movement director Gabrielle Nimo’s super-cool, hip-hop dance sequence, in which the boys flaunt their LA Lakers and Las Vegas Raiders bomber jackets.

Joey, Omz, and Bilal have known each other since primary school, and the chemistry between the cast — who have been together since the play’s premiere in 2022 — makes this detail ring true. They are constantly ribbing each other, such as when Omz declares “I’ve had girls for days,” and Bilal and Joey demand names. But there are also tender moments: when Joey lends Omz his prized Louis Vuitton belt for a party and, later, Bilal ends a feud to help Omz find his grandfather. The way Williams balances funny and heartfelt scenes is pitch perfect.

For a play about three boys who dream of dazzling football careers, beginning with trials for Queens Park Rangers, there are plenty of references to the beautiful game, from Williams-Stirlings’s recreation of Cristiano Ronaldo’s ‘siu’ celebration to debates about whether Jadon Sancho had ever played at their local football ground. But you don’t need to be a football aficionado to appreciate what Williams is doing here.

The run-down football pitch is a place to be respected, which is shown when Omz and Bilal call out Joey as he moves to urinate against the railings. Go in your back garden, they tell him. The ground is a sanctuary for the three boys, but it is also a fragile space, and not just because of the looming threat of gentrification. The fear of being left behind hangs in the air, and a devastatingly raw fight scene, cleverly coordinated by Kev McCurdy, shows just how much the boys have to lose if they turn their backs on each other.

Red Pitch is exciting work from a refreshing new voice in theatre — and it is just what the West End needs.

Book Red Pitch tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: Francis Lovehall, Kedar Williams-Stirling, and Emeka Sesay in Red Pitch. (Photo by Helen Murray)

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