Can ‘The Damned United’ Unite for a Successful Show?

Can ‘The Damned United’ Unite for a Successful Show?

“Take all your medals, all your caps, all your pots and all your pans and stick them in the biggest dustbin you can find.” That’s the first act legendary football manager, Brian Clough, asks of his recently-inherited Leeds United squad upon his appointment in Red Ladder Theatre Company’s upcoming tour of The Damned United. Whilst typical of Clough’s somewhat autocratic yet humorous approach, hearing such speech at Tuesday’s launch of the project struggled to erode my doubts over its potential success.

Adapted from the 2006 novel by David Peace of the same title, the play documents Clough’s ill-fated, 44 day tenure at the helm of the Beeston-based club. The production comprises of a three man cast with local actor Luke Dickson in the lead role of Clough.

As with any artistic work adapted from an already popular piece, this should have the ingredients necessary to be a success. The novel itself drew considerable acclaim from football fanatics and book critics alike with The Times’ Rick Broadbent suggesting it was ‘probably the best novel ever written about sport’. From here, The Damned United made its way onto the silver screen in 2009, and was again well received, theoretically cementing sizable interest in future adaptations.

Given the context of this production, however, this might not be the case for Red Ladder. The company only finished touring a version of the play as recently as last November, and thus it is easy to question the audience numbers this production can realistically attract. Perhaps there are some new spectators who can be drawn in, but it’s unlikely many attendees of the previous tour will be too enthused by this one, particularly considering its so soon afterwards.

There is, nevertheless, hope for Red Ladder with the changes which have been implemented following the conclusion of the latest tour. Heightened by the use of significantly smaller venues in several cases, the company claim the new production is set to be more intimate, and in line with three man cast, will also be downscaled from the original. “I do feel the second version is better,” said Red Ladder’s Artistic Director, Rod Dixon. “It moves people in a better way. They feel more immersed in it. We used dancers last time to give football movements, but they alienated people a bit, so I think the smaller version works.”

“I do feel the second version is better,” said Red Ladder’s Artistic Director, Rod Dixon. “It moves people in a better way. They feel more immersed in it. We used dancers last time to give football movements, but they alienated people a bit, so I think the smaller version works.”

Another concern of mine has been the suitability of Luke Dickson to play Clough after hearing he didn’t overly follow football although these have since been washed away. In response to being quizzed on his thoughts in relation to the sport, Dickson commented, “There’s a loyalty in Leeds to Leeds United whether you’re a football fan or not. I love coming here on the occasions I do. The atmosphere’s cracking.”

Even though the new production may potentially be quite similar to its original, its differences seem enough to create a credible new production. Most importantly, however, Red Ladder appear to have formed a team who will strive for the greatest success.

The Damned United begins its tour at Lincoln Drill Hall on 1st March before arriving at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on 27th March.

Luke Prowse Baldwin

Image: Luke Prowse Baldwin