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Review: The Damned United, at Pleasance Theatre

Stage adaptation of David Peace's biographical novel tackles Brian Clough's 44 days as manager of Leeds United

17 November, 2017 — By Paul Cowling

Luke Dickson in Damned United. Photo: MalciJ Photography

DAVID Peace’s take on Brian Clough’s 44-day tenure as Leeds United manager in 1974 was made into a very good film. But, for me, the same can’t be said for Red Ladder’s adaptation of one of the most famous stories in British football.

The casting is marginally offside: David Chafer is imposing as Peter Taylor (Clough’s wing man). Chafer’s Taylor acts as a crutch to Clough one minute and then kicks the stick away as bitterness shows for not having “a share of the f***ing cake”.

But, Luke Dickson looks nothing like the fresh-faced Cloughie, set at a time when he was one of the most famous people in the country.

Dickson sounds nothing like him either. The emphasised end sentence, almost whining Teeside inflection that was Clough’s main calling card is bad at best. And where are the “young man” references that Clough cheekily brought into our homes in the beige 70s?

We know that Clough loved his childhood and his Mam dearly, so when she dies Dickson’s attempt at despair as he writhes around on the floor should have seen him booked for diving.

It’s an early bath for director Rod Dixon for getting the main character so wrong – and arguably, the most important aspect of his play.

Dixon’s set and use of visuals are the two strikes in a disappointing 3-2 defeat: A bottle of Bell’s and a rotary dial phone play well as props, while a sheet of corrugated plastic works as the grainy projection for Clough to confront his “dirty” Leeds players for the first time, and tell them “to bin their caps and medals” and start again.

The most gripping side to Clough’s stint at Leeds came when he went head to head in a live Yorkshire TV broadcast with his nemesis, Don Revie. Here Revie is the real thing, and Dickson’s synchronicity when the pair effectively interview each other is spot on.

However, the muted, short applause at the end means it’s just as well this is a short run.

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