Fringe Review – The Damned United (rating: 5/5)
An inescapable intrigue about this production is how it compares to David Peace’s book and the subsequent big screen film but also to the main man himself.
For those with first hand memories of the Cloughie years the story in all its formats is a familiar one of a man who believed not only in himself but in his own image of himself.
Brian Clough was, of course, loved by the ordinary football supporters and mistrusted by the game’s rulers in almost equal measure.
He was a man of the people, a plain-talker whose self-promotion drew admiration and respect from the terraces but resentment and derision from those who preferred the game’s leaders to toe the line.
He was a footballer of international quality and by popular opinion “the best manager England never had”, but he was also a man who made enemies of those who could have helped him achieve his ambitions.
The task of the performers in any telling of the Clough story is to make us feel all these emotions: shifting from empathy and amusement to head-shaking disbelief at his arrogance and dismissive attitude to authority and the success of Don Revie whom he replaced as manager of English champions Leeds United.
Rod Dixon, the director of this production by the Red Ladder Theatre Company, together with writer Anders Lustgarten and Luke Dickson as Clough, have managed to inject enough of these contrasting features to create a man we recognise from the time.
Clough was an impersonator’s dream but they have avoided creating a caricature. Dickson’s version explores Clough’s inner man as well as his public persona and provides us with a believable blend of cockiness and sentimentality. This manifests most clearly in his can’t-live-with, can’t-live-without partnership with his assistant Peter Taylor, played by David Chafer.
This is a three-man performance with Jamie Smelt assuming the roles of Derby County chairman Sam Longson, Leeds United chairman Manny Cussins and the Leeds trainer Syd Owen. They help shape the story but are essentially sounding boards to provide a greater understanding of Clough’s complex character.
The production, on a small stage in a cramped theatre, makes clever use of projections to introduce some of the famous names of the time and add crowd atmosphere.
This cranks up the tension between Clough and his detractors: his nemesis Don Revie, ‘directors who know nothing’, and the Leeds players who frustrated his ambitions.
Essentially, the production captures the essence of one man’s tortured mind and his attempts to do things his way.
The Damned United is at Pleasance Above until 28 Aug