Powerful and demanding, Red Ladder Theatre Company’s production of
It’s impossible not to be swept up in the action of a match
An adaptation of David Peace’s novel of the same name, The Damned United tells the story of Brian Clough’s doomed 44 day tenure as manager of Leeds United. Interspersed with flashbacks to happier times when he was manager of Derby County, the show presents a picture of a proud man thoroughly unashamed of his own ideas, though perhaps too unashamed for his own good.
Luke Dickson, David Chafer and Jamie Smelt are a strong ensemble of performers. Dickson is utterly believable as Clough, at one point sitting in for his real-life counterpart in a famous argument with Clough’s nemesis Don Revie, who appears in an actual television clip from the time. The play is at its best when Dickson stands together with Chafer, who plays Clough’s assistant manager at Derby County, Peter Taylor. As they stand on the touchline narrating the events of a number of famous matches, it’s impossible not to be swept up in the action of a match even though the result was decided over 40 years ago. The trio all enjoy and know their football, or at least convincingly give that impression, and it shows in the strength of their performances.
The script definitely assumes familiarity with the story at hand. People unfamiliar with the tale may have a hard time initially piecing together the timeline of the play, which rapidly switches between Clough’s tenures as Leeds United, Derby County, and Hartlepool manager respectively. People unfamiliar with the world of football and who have no idea what Leeds United, Derby County or Hartlepool are, will have an even tougher time sinking into the story. But this is to be expected; the show makes no apologies for what it is and will appeal all the more to football fans because of it. In addition to this, the story is ultimately more about Clough as a character than it is about the world of football, and there is much to recommend for everyone in that regard.
The Damned United will appeal to any football fan worth their salt, particularly those who remember watching Clough’s teams and their unique style of football. The non-initiated may have a harder time, but will still ultimately leave with a firm sense of satisfaction.