Red Pitch by Tyrell Williams
Bush Theatre12th - 30th of September
Review by Khai Shaw
Wot Do U Call It - Wiley
Red Pitch is a juggernaut of a production, right from kick off (I'll try to keep the football puns to a minimum) and I'm not talking about the opening scene. The set, so intricately designed by Amelia Jane Hankin and Georgia Wilmot, is instantly recognisable to anyone who grew up in the inner city streets of London. The way the edges of the cage curve around the space and chime when they're hit by the boys ritualistic slaps, the dark grey slab of flooring being an identical colour and shape to the football cages of old... even the way the dirty concrete lines the outside of the caged area. It is exactly as you would remember from your own childhood growing up kicking ball with mates until it got dark.
It's exceptional work and you feel as if you are at home in familiar surroundings the minute you enter the space. Wot Du U Call It by Wiley has a similar effect. The change from the late 2000's into the early 2010's and beyond, ushered in a new sound and a culture to go along with it, and anyone (like me) who grew up around the time when Grime was in full force will instantly recognise this iconic instrumental. Wiley, one of the forefathers of the sound, raps with an essence of something raw, bold and fresh and its this energy that infects the listener, setting the tone for a new generation.
Mains - Skepta, Chip and Young Adz
There's only one word that can be used to describe the inimitable performances of Francis Lovehall, Emeka Sesay and Kedar Williams-Sterling... Synergy. There is something truly magical about the energy these three possess; individually they're powerful and full of emotional depth and life, but there is something about them being altogether that lifts the show into a different stratosphere. Sesay's Joey with his innocence and child-like wonder, Lovehall's Omz with his jokester ways, hiding a deep sense of pain and vulnerability and Williams-Sterling's Bilal bringing a humorous stoicism and a razor-sharp focus, covering up his own insecurities of not knowing what's next for him... it all works seamlessly. Their chemistry carries us through the story right from the off and we buy into so much of their own arcs ourselves because of the strength of their friendship. We care about Omz's Grandad because they care, we care about their trials because they care, we even care about them securing whines and gaining Snapchat's because they care. It's a marvel to watch and a true testament to the work the actors and director Daniel Bailey have put in.
When Skepta, Young Adz and Chip announced their joint LP Insomnia, many of us were skeptical. We didn't know if their individual sounds would work well together. But from the opening track Mains we knew what they had was going to be special. Their own styles mesh together incredibly well, mixing Young Adz's woozy and melodic vocals with Skepta's hard-hitting delivery and Chip's rapid fire flow and wordplay. The interconnectivity of the three weaves into this tuneful and bouncy instrumental that packs a huge punch, highlighting their strengths in a way that doesn't ever diminish from the other two, creating a playground for each artist to showcase some of their best ever recorded work.
No Confusion - Ezra Collective ft. Kojey Radical
Speaking of Daniel Bailey... my goodness me. This is virtuosic direction at play here. With so many elements that make up Red Pitch it would be easy to get overloaded with the complexities of the play... but Bailey's clear and simplistic vision ties it all together incredibly seamlessly. The characters are like the melody, guiding us along the peaks and troughs of our story, with the design elements adding context, tension and flair, all managed my Bailey superbly. It takes a real skill to utilise every facet of your design and acting team to its full capacity and Bailey does this with real aplomb. The burgeoning sense of dread created by the sound of drilling and scaffolding (created beautifully by Khalil Madovi) the joy and technical brilliance of the new dance sequence (super work by Dickson Mbi and Ricardo Da Silva) followed quickly by animalistic and guttural fight sequence (a masterclass by Kev McCurdy)... it all fires away at the perfect time, keeping us firmly immersed in the journey of this wonderful story.
Mercury Prize winners, Ezra Collective, have cultivated an almost identical musical experience with their song No Confusion. With Kojey Radical's bombastic and braggadocios bars serving as the conductor, Ezra Collective fill in the rest of the musical landscape around him expertly. The rising and falling of the horns, the subtle flutterings of vocals chiming in and out, the soft undertones of the piano and guitar... every component works perfectly, with each element shining and adding texture to create a smorgasbord of sound. If one element was out of touch the song would fall apart entirely and it is tremendous work from the Collective to keep it all going, just as Bailey has done with the direction on the show.
Pass Out - Tinie Tempah
As incredible as each design element was, the lighting design, superbly created by Ali Hunter is a fantastic showcase of the phrase "less is more." The camera flashes to showcase the boys hopes and dreams on the pitch are so simple, yet they are easily one of the standout moments of entire show. These, alongside some wonderful washes of red and brown, showcasing tension and danger, accompanied by the stark contrast of the colder washes for the slow-motion sequences, create a visual world that is enthralling for our eyes. Ali has perfectly crafted a range of emotions through her work that subtly feed into our subconscious, creating some key foreshadowing for the more visceral moments later on in the show. Its such gorgeous work and it would be totally remiss of us not to mention it.
"We bring the stars out" cries Tinie Tempah on his debut track Pass Out, which burst onto the scene in a similar fashion to Hunter's work on Red Pitch; with a bang. His irreverent and swagger filled energy coupled with the bass heavy instrumental made for an instant classic during the 2010's. It even uses collective snares to mimic a camera flash to open the track too, setting the tone right from the off, just as Hunter does. His opening lyric couldn't be more accurate, both for himself and for Hunter; the stars were well and truly brought out... and boy did they shine.
My Hood - Ray Blk ft. Stormzy
Tyrell Williams has crafted an epic, a dense piece of work that stands as a true testament and testimony of the Black-British experience. Despite its specificity in terms of location and demographic, the work speaks to so many topics in the space of 90 minutes; Gentrification, coming of age and growing older, lack of opportunity, love and friendship... I could go on and on. It is an all encompassing, masterstroke of a play and I believe it is the specificity and detail in the work that allows us to see the full spectrum of the outside world that surrounds it. Williams weaves in so many techniques and even the cyclical nature of the writing is subtle, with callbacks to times of old rearing its ugly head in front of our very eyes live and direct. The way that these three boys become so neat and dear to us so fast, is incredible work. It is little wonder as to why Red Pitch has garnered the wide acclaim it has already.
Ray Blk's My Hood similarly does so much with so little. Her hyper accuracy on the things she has witnessed growing up inform this moving and poignant track. Her vocals glide on top of the strings and piano as she croons about the memory of Morleys, losing friends as she grew older and how everyday words created her world. Stormzy's stellar verse on this amplifies those feelings and more, emphasising the pain of growing up where he did ("we've had a lot of Dark Knights living up in Gotham") in spite of surviving it. It's a beautiful song and as a South Londoner myself, I know all too well the pain and pleasure of residing in this part of the city, allowing it to shape you in ways that only South London can. There is beauty in the struggle and through that pain stories emerge and we can begin to turn that pain into something positive, as Williams himself has done with Red Pitch so wonderfully.
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