By Neil Durham
WORTH A LOOK?: **** RUNTIME: 90 minutes (no interval)
WHEN?: Opening night Tuesday 22 February 2022 (press ticket), runs to 26 March 2022
Williams-Stirling plays Jackson Marchetti, a head boy and swimming champion in Netflix’s TV series Sex Education and it’s a role light years from his part in this coming of age story set on a football pitch not far from this west London venue.
- Read on for reasons including how there’s a truthfulness in the friendship represented here
Teenage friends Bilal (Williams-Stirling), Joey (Emeka Sesay, seemingly at first a follower) and Omz (Francis Lovehall, ferociously competetive) play football on the titular ‘red pitch’ that has been created at the centre of the Bush Theatre’s main stage space.
It’s essentially a five-a-side pitch and set and costume designer Amelia Jane Hankin has done a great job recreating something so authentic that when the cast tap the pitch’s railings twice for luck as they leave it we really feel as though we are with them.
Our seats were on tiered stands close to the halfway line on the red pitch and as we accessed them through a stage door we’d not used at this venue before we really felt part of the show.
The action is appropriately 90 minutes long without interval and the majority of the piece is played out on the pitch as we get to know the young men, their rituals and their ambitions to be selected during trials for their beloved football team Queen’s Park Rangers, the big local team.
Omz and Bilal battle to be the best with the loser relegated to buying the winner a carton of tropical drink and a Twix from the nearby shop. Joey, who has aspirations to leave the estate on which they live, appears at first to be the glue that keeps the friends together but then the teenagers’ worlds change.
Our favourite bit was when the 3 go out to a party shortly before their big trial and we see them dance with each other with joy as they interact brilliantly with tonight’s enthusiastic audience.
Writer Tyrell Williams has given us a new play shining a light on men growing up, finding kinship through football and, although they might struggle occasionally to articulate it, supporting each other to be the best they can be.
We first saw self-penned gig theatre Misty by Arinzé Kene in this venue 4 years ago and the theme of gentrification and change expressed there recurs here.
Sex Education fans will find much to enjoy here not least a completely different performance from Williams-Stirling who shines bright in a strong cast telling an authentic story which both deserves to be told and delights.