Review: The Damned United, West Yorkshire Playhouse

Luke Dickson as Brian Clough in The Damned United.
Luke Dickson as Brian Clough in The Damned United.
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The story of Brian Clough’s infamous 44 days in charge of Leeds United in 1974 had a large cast of characters. Aside from Big ’Ead himself, there were 11 players, the backroom staff, the ghost of former manager Don Revie and Clough’s own demons. Red Ladder’s production, based on David Peace’s book of the same name, has just three.

A slimmed down version of the original stage version, Luke Dickson is a commanding presence as Clough and he delivers his words of wisdom with the same self-confidence as Nottingham Forest’s favourite son and masters the subtletly of his accent. Alternating between those 44 tortuous days and his prior career which saw him loved and loathed in equal measure, David Chafer as Clough’s long-time sidekick Peter Taylor acts as his conscience. Greek chorus-like, it’s a neat device and reminds us that for all his bravado, Clough was just a man. He was flawed, vulnerable and he hurt just like the rest of us.

Completing the trio is Jamie Smelt, who plays various roles including LUFC chairman Manny Cussins and whose first appearance gets an audible mumble of approval from this obviously Leeds footballing crowd.

While this production might be economical with the actors, it’s not short on either atmosphere or heart. Using projections to conjur up the training ground and the dressing room of Elland Road, the footballing landscape of the 1970s is put centre stage.

Running to just 70 minutes, with no interval, this is a fast-paced production, but one which could have done with a little more room to breathe. So much so that rather like Clough’s tenure at Leeds, the ending comes a little too abruptly.

To April 7, then touring various community venues across the city.