What happens when your “ends” no longer belong to you? It’s a question that’s being asked more and more as gentrification sweeps across the UK, ‘transforming’ troubled areas and driving out long-term residents in the process. In south London, three 16-year-old boys – Omz (Francis Lovehall), Joey (Emeka Sesay) and de facto leader Bilal (Sex education‘s Kedar Williams-Stirling) – are beginning to see its heartbreaking effects. Dry cleaners are closed, favorite chicken shops are now Costa Coffees (“Rah, there are no wings here,” Joey laments) and their friends are moving to cheaper neighborhoods due to the rise rents. They play football and dream of becoming Premier League icons as construction drills buzz in the background like a death knell.
As the audience heads to the Bush Theater, the teenagers are already on the field and training hard. Football is the catalyst for the action in the debut play by Tyrell Williams (best known for the BBC Three mockumentary #HoodDocumentary) but you can hate the sport and love this production. Sure, there are eerie references to England’s Jadon Sancho and French star Kylian Mbappe, but the footballing facts and jargon are minimal and the spectacle never feels unapproachable. At its heart, instead, is the friendship of the trio. Between them, everything is competition. Happiness and anger are clearly linked, with celebration turning into fight and back again in seconds, making it a clear commentary on modern masculinity.
On stage, the three protagonists feel perfectly at ease with each other. They chew on their silver chains and their hands never move from the belts of their joggers. Under the direction of the Bush Theater’s associate artistic director, Daniel Bailey, there’s barely a moment of silence, with laugh-out-loud dialogue overlapping as each boy fights to have the last word. Sesay, in particular, shines in these rhythmic moments. With everything feeling so natural, the odd moments of exposition feel a bit awkward, with context needlessly pointed out during the teen families’ chats. Initially, it seems that love is exclusively reserved for blood relations, but behind the bravado, there is a real feeling between the boys. Yes, they fight and tease each other, but the tenderness pervades in unexpected ways – Omz shares his Twix with Bilal as an apology, or Joey lends Omz his Gucci belt so he can impress a girl at a party .