James Haddrell on the award-winning Red Pitch

With Woolwich Works set to host the annual Offies ceremony at the end of the month, recognising achievements at the capital’s fringe and off-West End theatres, questions around the value of awards will inevitably rear their heads again.

James Haddrell, artistic director of Greenwich Theatre

The venue will doubtless be packed for what has become one of the higher profile theatre award ceremonies in London (and – full disclosure – Greenwich Theatre is up for three awards this year for Snow White) but if previous years are anything to go by, the venue will be filled with nominees and their colleagues, friends and supporters, so is it just another act of self congratulation? And is there any value in a small panel of assessors deciding which shows, creatives or performers have performed the best, when in fact theatre lives or dies on the collective views of the audiences that we all work so hard to attract? In my view the answer is a strong yes – this ceremony in particular does make a clear difference to our industry, and specifically to those working outside the West End.

If an example were needed, the ongoing success of Tyrell Williams’ play Red Pitch offers just one glimpse of what this kind of industry recognition can represent. The play explores the impact of the proposed destruction of a community football ground, and centres around three lifelong friends as their dreams of stardom are threatened. It started life at the Bush Theatre, where Williams picked up the Best New Play award at the Offies (as well as Best Writer at the Stage Debut Awards, and the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards for Most Promising Playwright).

Artistic Director of the Bush Theatre Lynette Linton describes the play as “a beautiful story of three young Black men, dealing with what life throws at them via their deeply rooted friendship based on playing football.”

“Developing new writing is central to what we do at the Bush Theatre” Linton continued, “and Tyrell’s ‘Red Pitch’ is an example of which we are very proud.”

The off-West End and fringe scene in London, particularly epitomised by venues like The Bush, offers something crucial to the theatre ecology – an opportunity for artists and producers to try something new without risking huge financial losses, to test a new show, a new approach, a new collaboration, all in a supportive environment where artists can develop their craft ready for the bigger stages – and awards like the Offies serve to amplify the power of those opportunities.

Now Red Pitch, having proven itself on a smaller stage and been heralded by those awards’ panels, is set to return for a seven week run at London’s newest West End venue, Soho Place.

Nica Burns, head of the new venue, said “Tyrell Williams deservedly won all five Best Writing Debut Awards for his amazing play ‘Red Pitch’, brilliantly directed by Daniel Bailey and performed by an outstanding cast. Sold out twice at the Bush, we are delighted to be welcoming this must see production.”

With this kind of track record I, and countless of my colleagues, are now looking forward to spotting the next break-through sensation waiting to emerge at this year’s Offies ceremony.


Picture: Emeka Sesay (Joey), Kedar Williams-Stirling (Bilal) and Francis Lovehall (Omz) in Red Pitch at the Bush Theatre. Photo credit Helen Murray

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