Set in the wake of the Qatar World Cup and in the midst of the 2023 Women’s Tournament, Pitch lands at EdFringe at an exciting time to discuss what it means to watch, play, and love the beautiful game, as the World Cup kicks off today. Exploring the relationship between football and the Queer community, The show takes the intriguing tagline of imagining a future “in which the debate about Queer representation in Football is more than just a debate over a rainbow armband.”
We caught up with Nell Bailey, the show’s director, for a pixelated pint. We wanted to get to know a bit more about that concept, how it all links with the art of drag, dance, and lip sync.
Pitch kicks off at Pleasance Courtyard (Pleasance Above) between August 2nd and 28th (no shows on the 9th, 16th, and 23rd) at 15:45. Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.
Jake: Hey Nell! Pitch is an exploration of the complex and compelling relationship between football and the LGBTQIA+ community, expressed through inspiration from drag, dance and lip sync. Tell us what brought these elements together and what inspired you to bring this story to the stage.
Nell: Well, the story came from Edinburgh Fringe last year. Ellie Roser (my co-creator) and I were having a summer of football a-plenty. We’d made a group of queer mates through watching the footie, and we had a cast at Fringe willing to silence their phones while we tech-ed through the Wembley final of the women’s Euros (The Lionesses went and brought it home, didn’t they?). And that got us thinking – this joy, this community, isn’t something we’ve seen onstage. We knew we wanted to talk to people across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum about their experience of queerness and football as fans, players, or teams, to make the show. So that’s what we did.
The formal influence comes a lot from queer theatre traditions. Queerness was underground for a long time, expressing itself in cabaret and drag away from the mainstream long before it’s pop-culture celebration of the modern day. I wanted to inform the show with these histories. The show has changed a lot since we began the journey, and I’m still excited to see how these aspects find their way into the final show. What there will be is bold storytelling, full of footie bangers, big moves, and big chants.
Jake: ‘Pitch’ blends documentary storytelling and devised theatre to investigate what it means to watch, play and love the beautiful game. Tell us a little bit about the process of bringing these elements together.
Nell: We spoke to hundreds of queer folk across the UK – fans, players, teams, and even chairs at the Women’s Super League. Our cast are also members of the queer community with a relationship to football. So, we took those interviews and the cast’s experience, and spent a week in a bunker at Pleasance Theatre making loads of stuff inspired by those sources. We’re talking full on referee drag, some improvisations that made me cry with laughter, and more scenes than we have room for in the play.
At the end of the week, we looked at what we had, and started to shape the thing – finding a story that investigates multiple queer relationships to football through the eyes of a grassroots team. Our writer, Tatenda Shamiso, then shaped us a script, and now we’re about to jump back into rehearsals and make the show. It’s exciting!
Jake: The show wants to give a voice to any and all whose sexuality has affected their relationship with football. What are you hoping the audience walks away thinking after the piece?
Nell: So many things. For queer folk, I hope they feel seen. Whether that’s in their full blown love for football or a tentative relationship to sport. I hope it breaks down some of the stigma that football is either a men’s game, or that football is ‘straight’ if you’re a man. I hope they take away a view of what football could be, and a desire to make change, whatever that looks like. This is also a show, at its heart, about community and the importance of it, so we hope audiences leave with that joy, that want to connect, with them.
Jake: Tell us about your relationship with Edinburgh and the Fringe – have you been before and how are you feeling about it all now we are a month away?
Nell: Our relationship with Fringe is fresh, but we’re out of the early stages of dating. We brought our debut show ‘how to build a wax figure’ up last year. As a new company, independently produced, last year was our baptism of fire. And don’t get me wrong, we loved it, and the show smashed it, but it definitely feels different this year coming up with Pleasance as a Charlie Hartill show. Not only is the hype bigger, but the support from Pleasance has been mega. For one – look at the poster. It’s BEAUT. And that’s a huge privilege.
Making independent theatre is really hard, and I don’t know if we’d be here again without a wicked co-production like this. Fringe is the most amazing place for theatre, but it’s also financially tricky and can be so exhausting. There are many things about the industry that need to change, but finding a way to make Fringe more accessible to new (and broke) companies – especially in light of the loss of VAULT and other festivals that support emerging artists – is essential to the evolution of theatre.
Jake: Given the themes of Binge Fringe, if your show was a beverage of any kind (alcoholic, non-alcoholic – be as creative as you like!), what would it be and why?
Nell: A freshly poured pint of lager, ready to be spilled by a tipped table post the best goal you’ve ever seen!