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PITCH at Pleasance Courtyard (Above), Edinburgh

Possibly one of the most topical shows at this year’s Fringe, given the conversations about the Women’s World Cup, this production goes some way to exposing LGBTQ+ grassroots football teams to people who, like yours truly, weren’t even aware of their existence. I would have thought, given the hostility of the sport towards the queer community, most queers would want nothing to do with it. Whilst some of them have undoubtedly found other interests, others have created their own safe spaces.

PITCH, credit to Pleasance.
PITCH, credit to Pleasance.

Muddy Studs, a London-based (fictional) team – there are real ones, which some members of the company are in. There are more competitive clubs for those who want to join one (https://www.iglfa.org/) but Muddy Studs fundamentally meets to enjoy the game and each other’s company rather than chasing silverware. An evening’s training session begins with everyone introducing themselves by name, pronouns and (for some reason) whatever injuries they have.

Whilst there is something to be said about having a good time without hurling personal insults at a referee or indeed anyone else (and Muddy Studs’ matches don’t even have the dreaded VAR, so that’s something else in their favour), there’s a tangible knowledge amongst the characters that if there isn’t further progress in queer representation in football, there will be a perpetual consignment of it to these relatively unknown non-league teams, largely out of sight and largely out of mind.

Some voiceovers, which the cast lip-syncs, provide further perspectives on what it is like to be both a queer and a football lover. Ball and body movements are wonderfully choreographed, in training and during a match, the latter against the ‘Holloway Heroes’. Pre-match motivational speeches (if that’s what they’re called) from the team coach, Squid (Ethan Pascal Peters) are just as cheesy and pretentious – and motivational and effective – as they are at professional level. There’s Bill (Elijah Harris), who transitioned to a man, and Aimee (Elizabeth Hope) and Clo (Meg Lewis) who hit it off whilst watching a match, and former professional Kate (Eleanor Rattenbury).

The energy in this production mimics that of sporty types well, and the possibility of further friction arises. Suppose football does become queer-friendly? Will the fun and euphoria of the grassroots clubs remain the same, or will more competitive elements creep into LGBT+ football, putting some of them off? I’d like to think there will be places for both those who want to play in leagues and tournaments and those who don’t. The cast are palpably enjoying themselves on stage, which is a pleasure to witness. You need not know a thing about football to understand what goes on in this stirring and spirit-lifting production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Pitch is a bold and joyful exploration of the relationship between football and the queer community. Winner of the Pleasance’s Charlie Hartill Fund, it will dig under the surface of the world’s most popular sport to celebrate the connectivity it can bring while giving a voice to those who still have to hide their identity when in a stadium.

Director Nell Bailey
Writer Tatenda Shamiso
Designer Ellie Roser
Producer Sarah Verghese Productions, November Theatre and The Pleasance

Cast Ethan
Pascal Peters
Eleanor Rattenbury
Meg Lewis
Elijah Harris
Olivia Dowd

Pleasance Courtyard (Above), 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh, EH8 9TJ
Wednesday 2nd – Monday 28th August 2023

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