Tyrell Williams: I feel there’s a bit of me in all three characters. I wanted to honour that.
We sat down with Tyrell Williams, the writer behind the hit new play Red Pitch, to talk about putting personal narratives onstage and his earliest inspirations for the story.
Tyrell Williams was on the BAFTA Elevate scheme 2018 and was previously a Broadcast Hotshot. He co-created, co-wrote and directed the viral web series #HoodDocumentary which has had over 4 million views on Youtube. Following its online acclaim, #HoodDocumentary went on to be commissioned for pilot episodes by BBC Three which Tyrell directed and co-wrote.
When did you first get hooked on the idea for Red Pitch?
I was on the bus on the top deck heading towards Elephant and Castle passing through my estate. Then I noticed this finished accommodation built on the grounds where my football pitch used to be.
I had been aware of this new build beforehand – it wasn’t my first time seeing it. My estate, based in South East London was (and still is) going through massive changes and replacing the football pitch my friends and I used to play on with these new homes was one of the earliest changes made.
What struck me on this particular day was the realisation that they were empty – no one had been housed in them yet. And they just sat there. Built on a space where my friends and I would not only practise football but also hang out with each other, advise one another and learn from one another – the football pitch was a space where so many strong friendships had formed, so many memories had been built, it had meant so much to us.
I felt moved seeing this new accommodation take up space and felt compelled to write something.
“It’s a team effort. We talk about that with football, but it’s true of theatre too. We had an amazing team.”
What has the process been like of getting from early ideas to here?
It’s been a long process – four years in total. Red Pitch began its life as a ten-minute production which debuted at the Lyric Hammersmith’s Young Harts Writers Festival created by Ann Akin. Directed by Daniel Bailey, the ten-minute version of Red Pitch won audience favourite on the night and this warmth for the piece along with encouragement from Daniel, had motivated me to pursue this play further.
With this in mind, when I had seen that Ovalhouse (now Brixton House) were doing a First Bites programme allowing artists some seed funding to develop a personal project and then share it for three nights to audiences, I applied and was fortunate enough to get in. I worked with Titilola Dawudu and then Toby Clarke during the year long programme. I would also be in constant conversation with Daniel, who remained incredibly committed as the shows director.
The process was difficult; we had little time and little funding but we sold out our three nights at Ovalhouse and again, audiences responded very encouragingly to Red Pitch which was now at an hour.
Fast forward a few years and a few drafts later, I got a call from my agent saying that the Bush Theatre were going to programme Red Pitch.
From that point onwards, it has been a lot of writing and rewriting. I have had tremendous support from Daniel and dramaturg Deirdre O’ Halloran. All three of us took part in a week-long R&D for the piece prior to rehearsals, in which we made great strides in figuring out character depth, story detail and themes. I also spoke with dramatherapist Wabriya King which unlocked a lot of great moments that made it to the final piece.
During rehearsals, I was open to offers. I was in the room frequently and had no troubles making adjustments, additions if they made sense to the story. Whether it were from members of our cast – Kedar Williams-Stirling, Francis Lovehall, Emeka Sesay – or Daniel or Deirdre, I would listen and respond in a way that felt best for the play.
It’s a team effort. We talk about that with football, but it’s true of theatre too. We had an amazing team.
It’s been a long but incredible, enjoyable and educational journey.
“I feel there’s a bit of me in all three characters.”
The whole play is set on a local football pitch on the characters’ South London estate. What made you want to put this very specific location centre stage?
The football pitch which Red Pitch is based on was a really special place for me. It was a place where a lot of my friendships formed and strengthened and many of my fondest memories as young person occurred.
With Red Pitch, I wanted to honour that space. I wanted the play to reflect how important that space was and can be and so we understand the impact of when it inevitably closes due to a changing environment.
What is the attraction of writing a story that is so close to home?
It feels cathartic for me to write about matters close to home. It’s a tool I use to work things through – sometimes to my own detriment – but more often than not, I find it truly helps writing about stories close to home. I think there’s a universality to personal stories too, so long as you’re honouring the human experience.
I feel there’s a bit of me in all three characters. I hope audiences that people grew up around me will recognise themselves, that they’ll find familiar idiosyncrasies and nuances.
I also feel the best art is inspired by the most personal – debatable, controversial even! But I feel so …
Do you have any advice for early career writers, or people who think they might want to write?
Write what you’re passionate about. Write what you want to see. Watch and read what you enjoy and understand what they’ve done that makes you enjoy it. Try and emulate it in your own work and never give up.
What do you hope audiences will leave a performance of Red Pitch feeling?
I hope audiences will leave understanding the importance of friendship, community and space and how significant changes to an area can impact both of those things.
Mostly, I hope they enjoy it.
Red Pitch is playing in the Holloway Theatre until Saturday 26 March 2022.
Find out more and book tickets here.