Thursday, 7 April 2016

"The Damned United" Red Ladder Theatre Company
Derby Theatre

There is no way whatsoever that you could call me a football fan, but back in the day, I loved footie, the same as any teenager, yes I know that's going back some years. It was Brian Clough the man that really got me interested in football when he was at Nottingham Forest, so this was like a history lesson for me, taking in the early 70's period of his long and mixed career.  it is set during Clough's brief and unsuccessful spell as manager of Leeds United during 1974, with frequent flashbacks to his earlier period as manager of Derby County

As a football fan of the late 70's I found this fascinating,and as a fan of the theatre I also found this play fascinating. I've never seen the film and I've not read the book but apparently this is more like the book than the film. But how true are the facts in this piece of theatre? The book has been subtitled as "An English Fairy Story", but whatever the truth this play makes a fascinating 90 minutes trip down memory lane. 

The set is sparse, in fact it consists of a tray of drinks, subconsciously sidelined but always there at the corner of your eye,and Clough's mind, a telephone which now and again appears on the touchline of the set, a boardroom table, changing room stalls and some graphics on screens at the back. this in particular is used to very good effect when Don Revie, on the screens is having a conversation with Clough on the stage, the timing of this section is superb.

There were clever uses of cinematography to show the timeline of the 44 days as manager of Leeds United, as well as the football scores for the matches flashed on the front of the stage, designed by Nina Dunn.

The cast of just five, Tony Bell as PeterTaylor, John Graham Davies, Tom Lorcan, Tony Turner and Andrew Lancel as Clough are incredibly watchable, especially Andrew Lancel who doesn't try to be Clough, he doesn't try and look like Clough and he doesn't try to sound like Clough, even though there are slight inflections of Clough there. This for me is a good thing because what i didn't want was to see a caricature of the great manager, and he wasn't portrayed like this. Lancel brought the arrogance and the "big-headed" side of Clough to the stage and this alone was enough for me to recognise the man. Oh and then there are the classic Coughie one line quotes!

What I also liked was that the softer side of Clough was shown as well. The call he received to say that his mother had passed away was especially emotive, as were some of the private scenes with Peter Taylor when he shares his grief. The love and respect Clough had for Taylor was also evident in this portrayal.

This is a play for, not only football fans but for fans of a good story and well acted theatre. As you'd expect, some of the language is rather basic, but this is to be expected with the passion of the game talk and the decisions made behind office and locker room doors.

Directed by Rod Dixon and designed by Signe Beckmann, they show that by using the spoken word and actions, this can get the story over without over indulging with scenery and props. A clever use of mannequins, operated by an ensemble of eleven human mannequin-esques who kept the action of the non humans rolling, also thanks to the stage manager, Michelle Booth.

"The Damned United" is on at Derby Theatre until Saturday 16 April 2016.

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