When the final scene of Red Pitch was over, I saw something that made my heart do tiny somersaults. After the adrenaline escaped their bodies once they had completed their final performance of this play, the three actors who were at the heart and soul of Red Pitch hugged one another, almost collapsing to the floor as they did so. The play’s director then sprinted onto the stage to join in the celebration, before the Bush Theatre’s artistic director, Lynette Lynton, joined in the celebratory hug as well.
It was clear to see that the adrenaline that had been powering everyone through Red Pitch’s run at the Bush Theatre in early 2022 had collectively left everyone’s body the moment the final performance came to an end. It was also clear to see that everyone involved in bringing this play to life was immensely proud of what they had achieved. Everyone had clearly had a great time acting in and working on this play, and bringing this to life was clearly a labour of love – one that perhaps made every aching muscle and sore throat feel that much more bearable. As I watched the standing ovation that continued well into the post-performance hug, I could not think of a better moment that could have summed up what this play had achieved. Watching Red Pitch was pure joy, and this post-performance embrace underlined this.
Much of the new play offerings which have been released following the summer of 2020 have predictably, and disappointing, focused on Black trauma in an attempt to educate white audiences about the trials and tribulations of being racialised as Black in a white supremacist world. The problem with this approach is that it leaves Black audiences worn, tired, and often forced to confront trauma that may have been buried deep for a long time. We have been subjected to many film and TV shows that seek to only show the bad things that happen to us, however, we rarely see Black people simply trying to live their lives in the world. We rarely see Black joy.
Red Pitch was a phenomenal play that focused on three young boys living on a council estate, all vying to be professional footballers, and also grappling with the trials and tribulations of being teenagers. Thankfully, there were no monologues about racism to plunge the majority Black audience into despair. Watching this play from start to finish felt like the sort of warm embrace that the cast and crew indulged in at the end of the play. Anyone who has grown up on an estate will instantly recognise these characters. They are our brothers, nephews, and cousins. They are the boys we see joking around on the high street after school has ended. They are the boys we hear blaring music from their phones at the back of the bus. They are bright-eyed and bushy tailed, innocent young boys who dream of playing professional football like their heroes. They live their lives in the bubble that is their estate, blissfully unaware of where somewhere like Kent is relative to where they live. They are hungry for success and to make something of themselves. And they are also the best of friends. They make fun of each other, they annoy each other. They laugh at each other and fight one another. They offer help to one another, but sometimes struggle to accept help because of their pride. They lend each other their designer accessories so they can make a good impression at parties before they dance joyously to Shake Body by Skales.
What Red Pitch shows us is the full range of adolescent Black male friendship in a beautifully wholesome story. Red Pitch is a love letter to young Black boys everywhere who are trying to make their way in this world, and who are trying to better understand the world as they get older and confront different challenges. Red Pitch shows us what Black people have always known to be true but have rarely, if at all, had the privilege of seeing on screen or on stage; that Black boys too have hopes, dreams, fears and complicated friendships, and that they struggle with these things while having to respond to challenges which are outside of their control. Red Pitch shows us what happens when you focus on depicting an accurate portrayal of Black boyhood that isn’t rooted solely in trauma, but in the full range of emotions and experiences that young Black boys can face at such a formative stage of their lives.
The audience laughed along with the young Black budding footballers, and sometimes cried when things got a little heavy. But we left the theatre feeling as happy as the cast were as they embraced each other at the end of the show. We left knowing that despite everything that they had been through, these kids would be alright.