Sunday League Heroes

I went to see Red Pitch at Bush Theatre. Masks are still advised in the auditorium but there’s no strict enforcement nor is there any requirement for audience members to be distanced in the seating now.

The show is in the main Holloway Theatre auditorium, presented in a 4-sided stage made to represent the titular Red Pitch sports ground, with a wall down one side and metal fencing on the other. There was a gap in the wall which also served to represent a goal mouth. There were mock stadium lights set up at the far ends, shining into the faces of the audiences seated on those sides. The sports-ground markings also provided a spotlight point in the centre that was used in some of the non-dialogue sequences at the start and end of scenes.

The play script states that the story is set in “present day ‘urban’ south London” – not too far from Camberwell. There are no references to masks or the pandemic. The exact duration is not clear, it is stated as “summer” and probably over the weeks between the end of secondary school and the start of the rest of the lives for the 3 characters Bilal Amaral, Omar Richards, and Joseph Sesay, all 16 years old. We never see their other friend Femi, who is already moving on from their little world.

But these boys want to move on as well. They’ve got the chance of trials with QPR, and they see that as a step to even bigger clubs.

But they have to be realistic about other paths their lives could take.

Joey is accused a few times of being a “conspiracy theorist” but he could get some helpful advice off this man, even if it was mostly about football in the 70s:

Whilst these young men are trying to make something of their opportunities, and cope with family problems and also chase after girls who have “Insta” accounts, there is a bigger story of how their part of London is changing under a “regeneration” plan. Small shops are disappearing to be replaced by bigger chains, scaffolding is going up around blocks, and there are meetings and protests going on. The sound of drills and demolitions can be heard rising in the background. But none of our heroes is sentimental about where they live, and they are keen to get out as soon as they can afford it, though they’d like it improved while they’re still living here.

As well as the long talks between 2 or 3 of the friends whilst they are attempting to practice, we also get more animated interludes, usually focused on one of them on the stage, in a quasi-strobing illumination whilst playing the game (the script describes one of these moments as having “occasional flashes of light implying a photographer is taking pictures”). We also see all 3 of them making their dance moves during the scene when they go to a party just before the QPR trials; the cast chattered with parts of the audience during this moment to give a sense that the group had expanded as it socialised away from their usual intense private world on the pitch.

This is a story of friendships under strain from forces and changes they can barely understand, and holding together. The Holloway Theatre seems well-suited for portraying sports grounds, as it did for Fair Play last December.

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