Red Pitch, Bush Theatre

by Laura Kressly

The centre of the world is somewhere in south London within walking distance of the Camberwell Morley’s. It might be up Walworth Road towards Elephant, or in the direction of the Oval on Camberwell New Road. It could also be between there and Peckham, or somewhere down near King’s College Hospital. With all of these areas at the mercy of predatory property developers and skint local governments who are tearing down council blocks and throwing up ‘affordable’ (spoiler: only affordable to rich people) housing, it’s hard to tell exactly where red pitch is. It’s there though, tucked amidst small, shabby shopfronts and concrete estates. To 16-year-olds Bilal, Joey and Omz, the red-fenced football field is everything.

But so are their upcoming try-outs for a professional team. They could give these boys a way off the estate other than the looming, forced relocation because their homes are being demolished. Other routes to success largely seem impossible, despite Joey’s pleading for his mates to have back-up plans. Football is everything to them, as it is to thousands of young people up and down a country that increasingly makes leading a decent, comfortable and secure life impossible. Underpinning their lighthearted banter about the game, girls and family is a desperation that leads them to pin their hopes on a career that has the slimmest of chances of panning out. Failure isn’t an option when there’s no plausible safety net.

Yet, this desperation rarely rears its head directly. Instead, the circular conversations typical of teenagers switches topics faster than their football flies around red pitch. Director Daniel Bailey nails the frenetic pace and rhythms of the dialogue between these fast friends. The energy the trio (Kedar Williams-Stirling, Emeka Sesay, and Francis Lovehall) emit is immense, infectious and unmistakably of south London. Tyrell Williams’ script is often deliciously funny; when it’s not it runs the gamut of nostalgically charming, or borderline aggressive, or emotionally awkward. Regardless of the tone it takes, it consistently rings with truth as these boys look towards their unknown futures. Sometimes it can be hard for adults to follow, particularly those not totally fluent in teenaged London slang, but it doesn’t effect the overall essence of the show.

The story of these boys’ growing up, and their bonds with each other and their sport, elicits complex emotions and total investment from those watching. The range of issues and themes included make for a fully-fleshed, completely convincing microcosm that reflects a wider world. This is smart, sophisticated new British playwriting at its best with a cast and creative team that handle it expertly.

Red Pitch runs through 26 March.

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