Last Saturday night I saw Red Ladder Theatre Company’s production of The Damned United at Derby Theatre. The play has been adapted from David Peace’s 2006 novel by Anders Lustgarten. You know that you’re probably going to be impressed by a play when the attention to detail starts before you enter the auditorium. The Match Day Magazine and Programme echoes the style of the publications sold at football grounds in the 70s, even down to the lettered list of matches to write the half-time scores against. As a Derby native, I particularly enjoyed that the programme listed the honours won by the Rams between 1968 and 1972, the era of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, even if this reverie was slightly spoiled by the programme also listing the later achievements of Clough at another East Midlands team.
Probably the first thing to note about the play is that it is a lot closer in spirit to (and the “industrial” language of) the novel than the film that starred Michael Sheen in 2009. This makes the play a darker and more intense experience – and a more interesting one, too. Brian Clough’s character, inner thoughts and relationship with Peter Taylor are centre stage, with the brooding presence of Don Revie passing judgement on him from the surrounding screens.
Andrew Lancel gives a well-paced and believable performance as Clough. His efforts are particularly impressive as he’s on stage for most of the 90 minutes without a break. Tony Bell is equally impressive as Taylor and the chemistry between them works well. Like the book, the action switches between the triumphs the pair shared together at Derby and the agonies suffered by Clough at Leeds, where Taylor had refused to join him after the pair had resigned from Derby. The supporting cast of John Graham Davies (Longson, Owen & Bolton), Tom Lorcan (McKenzie), Tony Turner (Kirkland & Cussins) and the ensemble players all help to keep the story moving along at a cracking pace.
The death of Clough’s mother, “The end of anything good. The beginning of everything bad.”, signals Derby’s exit from the European Cup at the hands of Juventus and an allegedly bent referee, with Clough’s bluff being called by the Derby board when they accept his resignation. In the Leeds timeline, the death acts to foreshadow the players’ revolt and Clough being shown the exit.
The play ends with the re-creation of the infamous Yorkshire Television showdown after Clough’s sacking. This is a particularly elegant piece of staging and powerfully done, with Lancel’s Clough interacting directly with the cleverly cut archive footage of Revie.
It’s by far the best production I’ve seen on this stage since the days of the old Derby Playhouse. The run finishes on April 16th, so there’s not much time left, but if you can get a ticket, go and see it. You won’t be disappointed.