DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Damned United – West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Writer: David Peace

Director: Rod Dixon

Reviewer: Rich Jevons

Red Ladder’s take on David Peace’s seminal The Damned United, already made into a successful film, is less biopic than the movie, but rather explores the mindset of Brian Clough during his 44-day reign at Leeds United. Director Rod Dixon sees Clough as become a Greek or Shakespearean hero replete with ‘universal human flaws’. While west Yorkshire Playhouse’s Artistic Director James Brining noted how Leeds United’s history has become the stuff of myth.

In many ways, with minimal set and props, The Damned United is a two-hander with Andrew Lancel putting in a breath-taking dynamic and powerful performance as Cloughie, Tony Bell as his sidekick Peter Taylor. There is a fuller ensemble, but the crux of the narrative comes from these two main figures. The footballing action is performed by faceless balletic dancers and also projected on the back of the set with video design by Nina Dunn.

Anders Lustgarten’s adaptation really works well on stage but there is some confusion with the flashbacks to Clough’s time at Derby County, sometimes it is unclear where we are at any point in time. In addition, the portrayalof the Leeds United team as mannequinsperhapsdoes not make for particularly meaningful visuals. However, Lancel’s performance carries us on through the ninety minutes with verve and veracity, and the audience really feels for this complex and conflicted man.

The production as a whole does really benefit from some prior knowledge of the football history involved in the narrative. That said, the blend of physical theatre, projection and drama does pack a powerful punch and vitally, brings the action to life. However, with Red Ladder’s record of accomplishment so esteemed, it is only a partial success by their standards; more one for Leeds United and Derby County stalwarts, than the universal audience it is playing to.

Runs until 2 April 2016 | Image: Contributed

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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