In the mid 1990s I fell a little out of love with Leeds. It was where I’d grown up, where I’d gone to school, but when I came back from university something had changed.
Out had gone the slight shabby arcades and in had come designer stores; word was Leeds was going to emerge as a financial centre.
And so it came to pass, but I couldn’t help thinking a little bit of the city’s soul was washed away along with the soot. So, thank you Anthony Clavane for reminding me why I did and should still love Leeds. Two years ago his book Promised Land, which told the story of Leeds United as reflected in the highs and lows experienced by the wider city, was published and even before it had won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year, Clavane and co-writer Nick Stimson were working on a stage adaptation.
It was more than worth the wait. Directed by Red Ladder’s Rod Dixon, theatre rarely gets more uplifting, poignant and just sheer entertaining than this.
Here the fortunes of LUFC in the 1970s run parallel to the love story of Paul, a Jewish boy from North Leeds and Caitlin, a Catholic from south of the river. Both dream of escape, he from the family business on Kirkgate Market, she from the rising violence and racism on the city’s streets. Switching between the terraces of Elland Road and the turn of the 20th century tailoring factories, Promised Land also tells the story of the city’s Jewish community, but it never feels like a history lesson.
Performed by a community cast, it’s a showcase for just what can be done with great writing and imagination.
Leads Paul Fox and Lynsey Jones excel on stage, as do every single one of the actors, including a star turn by Nick Ahad as Avrom, the Jewish businessman desperate for a quiet life.
Told largely through song, the combined talents of musical director Beccy Owen and her right hand man Sam Sommerfeld provide some simply beautiful moments.
From the chants of the football terraces to the ensemble pieces which have echoes of Billy Joel’s Piano Man, together they’ve created an instantly memorable score.
The city may still be known in some quarters as Dirty Old Leeds, but by the end of Promised Land it’s hard not to agree with Clavane that it’s still an “ugly beautiful” kind of place.
To June 30.