‘It’s one of those shows that people love,’ says The Damned United actor Luke Dickson as Clough’s tragedy plays York NEWSFLASH…

Not having a ball: Luke Dickson’s splenetic Brian Clough in Red Ladder Theatre Company’s The Damned United

NEWSFLASH!

THE Damned Pandemic curse strikes again as tonight’s performance of The Damned United is OFF after one of the actors had an inconclusive lateral flow test. The show has been rearranged for Thursday, July 15, kick-off 7.30pm. Tickets remain valid.

BRIAN Clough lasted all of 44 days as manager of Leeds United in the cauldron of hatred in the summer of 1974.

By comparison, Luke Dickson is in fourth tour of playing Clough in his brief, bruising, self-destructive tenure when Elland Road turns into Helland Road in The Damned United.

“It keeps coming back,” says the Leeds-born actor, whose latest fixture list sends him to York Theatre Royal in Red Ladder Theatre Company’s touring production tomorrow night.

“I think we’ll have done something in excess of the 120-show mark, with me, David Chafer and Jamie Smelt in the cast, and we just keep returning! It’s one of those shows that people love.”

Ah, love. That might explain The Damned United’s otherwise baffling inclusion in The Love Season at York Theatre Royal, given how much spite and loathing, and not one heartbeat of love, pumps through the Leeds chapters of the Clough story.

The truth is more prosaic, as explained by chief executive Tom Bird: Rod Dixon’s show was booked in already when the reopening season’s theme took shape.

The cover to the alternative “War and Peace”, David Peace’s biographical novel The Damned Utd

Enfant terrible Clough despised Don Revie’s “Dirty Leeds” and the feeling was mutual, drawing Dewsbury-born author David Peace to construct a psychodrama inside the life of Brian’s head: the biographical novel The Damned Utd, published in 2006.

Tom Hopper’s film, starring Michael Sheen, ensued in 2009 under the title The Damned United, and Leeds company Red Ladder have since presented various stage manifestations of Anders Lustgarten’s darkly humorous adaptation, built around the double act of Clough and father figure/assistant Peter Taylor.

Heading deep into the tortured mind of a flawed genius, slamming up against his limits, The Damned United brings to life the beauty and brutality of football, the working man’s ballet, in a story of sweat and booze, fury and power battles. 

The performing rights were donated by Peace to Red Ladder for all of £3.68 – a penny for each page in the novel – as a show of support for the Leeds company when it suffered a 100 per cent cut to Arts Council funding.

Red Ladder artistic director Rod Dixon says: “As a story, The Damned United has it all – passion, power struggles, tragedy and a classic anti-hero in Clough – which lends itself brilliantly to theatre.

“Anders’ adaptation captures the grit, poetry and darkness of David Peace’s writing, and by charting the fall of Brian Clough and exposing what made ‘Old Big ’Ea’ tick, audiences are given a fascinating insight into the troubled but brilliant mind of a flawed genius – who, to this day, remains one of the most controversial figures in sporting history.”

“As a story, The Damned United has it all – passion, power struggles, tragedy and a classic anti-hero in Clough,” says Red Ladder artistic director Rod Dixon

Dickson loves author Peace’s definition of his character study of Clough, a figure as divisive yet as indelibly part of British Seventies and Eighties’ life as Margaret Thatcher. “He said it isn’t a photograph; it’s a portrait; it’s interpretative, not merely biographical, but creative, trying to get inside the troubled head of Clough, quite horrifically, but poetically too,” he says.

Raised in Leeds, Dickson supports LUFC, albeit without the dedication of a season-ticket holder, but he knows Clough is the Hamlet of football roles on stage. “I enjoy football, like anyone, and I’m working in a show where everyone is a staunch supporter of a club, more so than me, and everyone has an opinion on Clough, saying, ‘he did this’ or ‘he did that’,” he says.

“I thought, ‘just leave it with me; I need to find my own path to his character, so I read a lot about him, particularly his childhood, his life around football, and what gave him such a big chip on his shoulder, and that aggressive, cruel tendency to lay into people.

“It’s more about the man than the manager, which is where the drama lies, the human condition, in Clough’s story.”

Dickson’s Clough, Chafer’s right-hand man Peter Taylor and Jamie Smelt’s “everyone else” last toured The Damned United two and a half years ago, and while returning to the play in part mirrors climbing back on a bike after a fall, there is more to the revival than that.

“You can definitely play with the nuances, the intonations, to keep it fresh on stage for us as actors, playing a scene a little differently,” says Luke. “David might come up with something different, and I have to react, and we also have to find a way to slow it down, to let it breathe more, when it’s so fast paced, to find the moment.

Double act: David Chafer as Peter Taylor and Luke Dickson as Brian Clough in The Damned United

“We first did it at the Edinburgh Fringe, where everything has to be under an hour, whereas the original incarnation at the West Yorkshire Playhouse was around 75 minutes.

“Our version now runs just over an hour, with no interval apropos of Covid, and the script hasn’t changed from the last tour. I have to say there’s a fun feel to it this time, and once people are in the auditorium, sitting down, all those Covid thoughts wash away, and you’re all just there to enjoy the show.”

How has Dickson dealt with performing to audiences in masks? “Do you know, the masks haven’t affected it. You can still hear people talking during the show, saying ‘I was at that match’, because you’re playing to a football crowd as much as a theatre crowd,” he says. “Funnily enough, there are always people who stand up after 45 minutes, because that’s when it’s normally half-time!

“But back to masks, they’re becoming so commonplace now, it doesn’t really have an impact on me, and even if you can’t hear a smile, you can hear the chatter.”

On a fourth tour, Dickson is still discovering “new things” within The Damned United. “There’s such a lot to this story. How many times has this play been done in Leeds? It must be well into double figures now, but we still get good audiences. I must be eight years older now than Clough was when he was at Leeds, but I’ve still got a good head of hair!”

At the core of The Damned United is the Clough and Taylor double act, with all the highs and lows, the friendship and fall-outs, that go with such partnerships, and now in turn the bond of Dickson and Chafer.

Glory, glory Leeds United…or gory, gory Leeds United? The Don Revie squad, 16 internationals et al, before the arrival of Brian Clough

“We were talking the other day about what we might feel, in a year’s time, if other people were brought into the cast, and it would feel strange now if that happened, because we really need each other on stage,” says Luke.

“Looking at Clough and Taylor, there have been numerous books written about them, and it’s like a platonic male friendship that’s really deep running with all the ups and downs that can go with that, which I recognise from my own friendships that can feel unbreakable.

“But then you’re spending less time with them or you’re not in touch, which happened with Clough and Taylor, but because they had football within their friendship, they had to mix business and pleasure. Clough demanded such loyalty but then he had no compunction in deciding to leave Brighton for Leeds.”

The Damned United has the heightened intensity of a Greek tragedy, albeit leavened by dark humour. “It’s a tragic tale and Anders’ script brilliantly captures the central chapters within that tale in only an hour, which is no mean feat – though he would say he had wonderful source material. It’s a fantastic micro-display of friendship between two men.”

The Damned United tour is playing against the counter attraction of the Euro 2020 tournament, but on the other hand that means football is uppermost in people’s chat. “I’ll have to miss live matches, but that’s a cross I’ll just have to bear,” says Luke.

Red Ladder Theatre Company in The Damned United, The Love Season, York Theatre Royal, tomorrow (16/6/2021), kick-off 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

More Things To Do in York and beyond that Euro football tournament. It’s all kicking off in List No. 36, courtesy of The Press, York

What’s the pecking order here? Twirlywoos Live! at York Theatre Royal

EUROS 2020? What Euro 2020? The sun is out and so is Charles Hutchinson’s diary as he points you in the direction of curious CBeebies favourites, acoustic concerts, a dockyard Romeo & Juliet, a large painting, Clough v Leeds United and more ideas aplenty. 

Children’s show of the week: Twirlywoos Live!, York Theatre Royal, tomorrow at 1.30pm and 4pm; Saturday, Sunday, 10am and 2pm

TOODLOO, Great BigHoo, Chick and Peekaboo set sail for York on board their Big Red Boat for their Theatre Royal theatrical adventure Twirlywoos Live!.

Curious, inquisitive and eager to learn about the world, these small, bird-like characters from the CBeebies television factory will be brought to life with inventive puppetry, mischief, music and plenty of surprises.

Written by Zoe Bourn, the 55-minute show is recommended for ages 1+; babes in arms are welcome too. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Joshua Burnell: York prog-folk musician will perform in a Songs Under Skies double bill on June 14. Picture: Elly Lucas

Outdoor gigs of the week ahead: Songs Under Skies 2, National Centre for Early Music churchyard, York June 14 to 16

SONGS Under Skies returns to the NCEM’s glorious gardens at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York, for acoustic double bills by Katie Spencer and Joshua Burnell on June 14, Zak Ford and Alice Simmons, June 15, and Epilogues and Sunflower Thieves, June 16.

As with last September’s debut series, season two of the open-air, Covid-safe concerts is presented by the NCEM in tandem with The Crescent community venue, the Fulford Arms and the Music Venues Alliance.

Gates open at 6.30pm for each 7pm to 8.30pm concert with a 30-minute interval between sets. Tickets must be bought in advance, either in “pods” for family groups or as individuals at tickets.ncem.co.uk.

Art at large: Subterranea Nostalgia, by Corrina Rothwell

Biggest painting of the week award: Corrina Rothwell’s Subterranea Nostalgia, in The Cacophany Of Ages at Pyramid Gallery, York, until July 1

CORRINA Rothwell’s exhibition of abstract works features the largest canvas painting in the near-30 years that Terry Brett has run Pyramid Gallery in York.

“Subterranea Nostalgia measures 1600mm by 1600mm. That was fun, getting it upstairs!” says Terry, whose gallery is housed in a National Trust-owned 15th century building in Stonegate. “The painting has a real impact. If you know anyone with really big walls, it would be perfect for them!”

Nottingham artist Corrina favours mixed media and acrylic on canvas for the paintings, on show at Pyramid and online at pyramidgallery.com.

Not having a ball: Luke Dickson’s Brian Clough goes to hell and back in his 44 days in charge of Leeds United in Red Ladder Theatre Company’s The Damned United

Football, football, football, not on the box but in a theatre: Red Ladder Theatre Company in The Damned United, York Theatre Royal, June 16

THE choice is yours: Italy versus Switzerland at the Euro 2020 on ITV at 8pm or the inner workings of Brian Clough’s troubled mind at Elland Road in 1974 at York Theatre Royal, kick-off 7.30pm.

Adapted from Yorkshireman David Peace’s biographical novel by Anders Lustgarten, The Damned United is a psychodrama that deconstructs Old Big ‘Ead’s 44 days as manager of Leeds United, whose Don Revie-tutored players he despised as much as they loathed him.

The double act of Luke Dickson’s flawed Clough and David Chafer’s avuncular Peter Taylor are joined by Jamie Smelt as everyone else in a story of sweat and booze, fury and power struggles, demons and defeats.

That’s a good idea…

Festival of the month: York Festival of Ideas 2021, running until June 20

THIS year marks the tenth anniversary of York’s bright idea of a festival dedicated to educating, entertaining and inspiring.

Under the banner of Infinite Horizons to reflect the need to adapt to pandemic, the Festival of Ideas is presenting a diverse programme of more than 150 free online and in-person events.

The best idea, when needing more info on the world-class speakers, performances, family activities and walking trails, is to head to yorkfestivalofideas.com/2021/.

You kiss by the dock: Husband and wife Jordan Metcalfe and Laura Elsworthy as Romeo and Juliet in Hull Truck Theatre’s Romeo & Juliet at Hull’s former dry dock

Outdoor play outside York announcement of the month: Hull Truck Theatre in Romeo & Juliet, Stage@The Dock, Hull, July 15 to August 7

AFTER John Godber Company’s Moby Dick completes its run at the converted Hull dry dockyard this Saturday, next comes Hull Truck Theatre’s al-fresco staging of Shakespeare’s tragic love story.

The title roles in Romeo & Juliet will be played by Hull-born husband and wife Jordan Metcalfe and Laura Elsworthy, who appeared in The Hypocrite and The Last Testament Of Lillian Bilocca in 2017 as part of Hull’s year as UK City of Culture celebrations.

Metcalfe and Elsworthy, who married in the summer of 2018 after bonding when working on The Hypocrite, will play a stage couple for the first time, performing on a traverse stage to emphasise Verona’s divided society. Box office: hulltruck.co.uk.

Hitting the Heights: Lucy McCormick’s wild-haired Cathy in the Wise Children poster for Emma Rice’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights, bound for York Theatre Royal

Looking ahead to the autumn: Wise Children in Emma Rice’s Wuthering Heights, York Theatre Royal, November 8 to 20

EMMA Rice’s Wise Children company is teaming up with the National Theatre, York Theatre Royal and the Bristol Old Vic for her elemental stage adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Yorkshire moorland story of love, vengeance and redemption.

In an intoxicating revenge tragedy for our time shot through with music, dance, passion and hope, Rice’s company of performers and musicians will be led by Lucy McCormick’s Cathy.

“Emboldened and humbled by the enforced break, I feel truly lucky,” says Rice. “I cannot wait to get back to doing what I love most and to share this thrilling and important piece with the world. It’s time.”

An Evening With Julian Norton, vet, author and now show host, is booked in for Pocklington Arts Centre

Veterinary appointment in 2022: An Evening With Julian Norton, Pocklington Arts Centre, January 18

JULIAN Norton, author, veterinary surgeon and star of Channel 5’s The Yorkshire Vet, will share amusing anecdotes from his work with animals in North Yorkshire, bringing to life all the drama and humour in the daily routine of a rural vet.

Following in the footsteps of James Herriot author Alf Wight, Norton has spent most of his working life in Thirsk. His latest book, All Creatures: Heart-warming Tales From A Yorkshire Vet, was published in March. Box office: pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

War and Peace as The Damned United plays out Clough’s hatred of Dirty Leeds

Not having a ball: Luke Dickson as embittered, embattled Leeds United manager Brian Clough in Red Ladder Theatre Company’s The Damned United

THERE is much hatred and not a whole lotta love in The Damned United, but nevertheless the story of Brian Clough’s splenetic 44 days as champions Leeds United’s manager in 1974 forms part of The Love Season at York Theatre Royal.

Why so? The truth, as explained by chief executive Tom Bird, is that Rod Dixon’s touring production for Red Ladder Theatre Company was booked in already when the reopening season’s theme took shape.

Enfant terrible Clough despised Don Revie’s “Dirty Leeds” and the feeling was mutual, drawing Dewsbury-born author David Peace to construct a psychodrama inside the life of Brian’s head: the biographical novel The Damned Utd, published in 2006.

Tom Hopper’s film, starring Michael Sheen, ensued in 2009 under the title The Damned United, and Leeds company Red Ladder have since presented various stage manifestations of Anders Lustgarten’s darkly humorous adaptation, built around the double act of Clough and father figure/assistant Peter Taylor.

Heading deep into the tortured mind of a flawed genius, slamming up against his limits, The Damned United brings to life the beauty and brutality of football, the working man’s ballet, in a story of sweat and booze, fury and power struggles. 

The performing rights were donated by Peace to Red Ladder for all of £3.68 – a penny for each page in the novel – as a show of support for the Leeds company when it suffered a 100 per cent cut to Arts Council funding.

Red Ladder artistic director Rod Dixon says: “As a story, The Damned United has it all – passion, power struggles, tragedy and a classic anti-hero in Clough – which lends itself brilliantly to theatre.

The book cover to David Peace’s The Damned Utd

“Anders’ adaptation captures the grit, poetry and darkness of David Peace’s writing, and by charting the fall of Brian Clough and exposing what made ‘Old Big ’Ea’ tick, audiences are given a fascinating insight into the troubled but brilliant mind of a flawed genius – who, to this day, remains one of the most controversial figures in sporting history.”

As Leeds actor Luke Dickson’s Clough and David Chafer’s Taylor head to York next Wednesday, joined by the multi role-playing Jamie Smelt, here comes a tale of War and Peace: a Q&A with author David Peace.

How did this stage adaptation of The Damned United come about?

“The original idea came up one afternoon in the Maypole pub in Ossett, back in the summer of 2014. When Red Ladder lost their Arts Council funding, the project became a bit more concrete and urgent.” 

How closely do you feel Anders Lustgarten’s stage adaptation of The Damned United captures your novel?

“Anders keeps the essential atmosphere and mood of the book, and obviously the plot itself, but he’s also made it something else, something new and something more, and which is what any great adaptation does.”

Double act: David Chafer’s Peter Taylor and Luke Dickson’s Brian Clough in The Damned United

What did you take from watching The Damned United as a stage play?

“More than anything else, for me, it was just a wonderful, humbling and exciting experience to see the original 2016 production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse [now Leeds Playhouse], to see what so many talented people had brought to the work, and then how much the audience loved and appreciated it.”

Are there things that a theatre adaptation can do that a novel or film cannot?

“Very much so, and particularly in this case; football itself, at every level, is drama, theatre and spectacle played out before a living, breathing and usually very partisan audience. This is what I feel Anders, Rod and everybody involved brought to the story which neither the original book nor the film could do.”

What makes Brian Clough such a compelling figure?

“I think we simply recognise him, in ourselves, as human beings, with all his complexities and foibles, his good side and his bad, his triumphs and his defeats.”


Why do you think The Damned United holds so much appeal with non-football audiences as it does fans of the beautiful game? 

“Well, though few of us will sadly ever win the league or the European Cup, I think many of us have found ourselves in a new job with folk who were less than welcoming, and then perhaps not handled the situation as best we might. And then there’s always the mystery: why did Brian Clough put himself in that situation; ,why do we put ourselves in these situations?”

Red Ladder Theatre Company in The Damned United, The Love Season, York Theatre Royal, June 16, kick-off at 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.