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Red Pitch | Soho Place

Authenticity is key when crafting powerful theatre, and Red Pitch delivers it in heaps. From the impeccably detailed set to the heartfelt performances, there's plenty of truth to be found in this play, yet sadly the show seems to make any impactful remarks on its themes - Red Pitch misses one too many goals for it to be a winner.

From the moment the cast invited audience members up on to stage - or brilliantly designed titular football court - it's apparent that Red Pitch has plenty of heart, crafting a sense of community within the perfectly suited auditorium of Soho Place. While the show may only have a cast of three, it's this sense of community that Williams' book focuses on, documenting the demolition of an estate in Southwark through the lens of football loving friends.

Yet while discussion of gentrification versus suburban revitalisation certainly holds room for thrilling debate, the play seemingly skims over having any meaningful discussions of it and rather chooses to focus on the protagonists' footballing aspirations instead. What could have been a challenging play that uses football as vehicle to discuss hard hitting topics such as toxic masculinity, gentrification, misogyny and violence, instead diminishes them to passing remarks and background issues, and thus fails to achieve the raw emotional impact it wishes to elicit.

While the book may hold a myriad of problems, the show ought to be praised on the prowess of its technical success; between the book scenes are thrilling interludes of abstract football inspired choreography, dancing and music, creating a vivid dream that contrasts perfectly with the mundane unsightliness of red pitch. Amelia Jane Hankin does an incredible job of depicting the fading sports court, capturing impressive details such as chipped paint on the railings, moss growing at the sides of the pitch, and a cracked concrete surface, all bathed in harsh daylight by Ali Hunter's lighting.

Hunter truly gets to shine in the aforementioned dream sequences, dazzling the audience with an immersive depiction of an arena football match: flashing cameras, dizzying colours and thrilling energy. Paired with Khalil Madovi's excellent sound design, Red Pitch becomes a detailed and technically impressive play, despite its smaller scale.

Equally praise worthy are the performances by all three actors, Kedar Williams-Stirling as Bilal, Emeka Sesay as Joey, and Francis Lovehall as Omz. While the book doesn't allow many moments for the cast to impress with the full extent of their acting, the trio have an undeniable chemistry that is a joy to watch. The play depends on the audience believing this long-lasting friendship, and Williams-Stirling, Sesay, and Lovehall bring a brilliant sense of subtle affection, admiration and charisma within their interactions.

It would also be rude to not praise their outstanding football skills coached by Aaron Samuel - to act is one thing, but to act while constantly playing football is a demonstration of incredible coordination, and the actors commitment and energy is incredibly admirable. The same goes for all their movement work and choreography, directed by Dickson Mbi and Gabrielle Nimo whose slick and fast paced work ensures that the piece maintains a consistent pace and energy that the book sadly fails to bring.

Tyrell Williams' book has its strengths; as previously mentioned, its evidently a heartfelt depiction of experiences that feels thoroughly authentic and genuine, however, the problem is that Williams fails to explore any ideas in the text any further than their contribution to the plot. The closest the play offers is a conflict between the characters' positions on gentrification - one sees its benefits, bringing in new money, updating dilapidated buildings and improving living standards; the other sees its drawbacks, replacing local businesses and culture with corporations and the loss of identity that comes with it. It's a thought provoking moment, yet by the end of the play the focus has largely returned to the trio's friendship, more focused on their reconciliation rather than any of the large, more affecting themes at play.

Equally the play's light treatment of serious topics brought up in the play felt neglectful and potentially problematic: the reduction of women in the story to mere mentions of their sex appeal and appearance at parties felt entirely unnecessary, and only helps solidify the 'lads' culture of football that theatre perhaps ought to at the very least condemn rather than glamourise.

The same can be said of the fight that the three friends recall, exclaiming how brilliant it was and that they would have hated to miss it. If the leading trio were depicted in a more critical light in the moment then this could have worked as an exploration of youth violence and fragile masculinity, yet the scene instead provoked faint laughter and entertainment - a somewhat worrying notion considering the younger demographic present in the audience.

Red Pitch certainly had its strengths - for many in the audience it proved relatable and inspiring - but sadly the show's book prevents so many of its other technical excellences and performances from shining in the way they ought to; one wishes that had the thematic potential been allowed to grow from the lacking script, the West End could have had its second football themed smash hit of the year, yet seemingly we are still some time away from a hat trick.

Red Pitch is playing at Soho Place until 4th May. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Helen Murray


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