The Damned United, Theatre Review. Unity Theatre, Liverpool.

Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 9/10

Cast: David Chafer, Jamie Smelt, Luke Dickson.

Some people are born to be remembered forever, a few are so special in their chosen field that their very name is enough to evoke images far beyond what could be considered extraordinary, they talk a great game, they have the passion to back it up and they can command absolute love and attention from all quarters; they might be bombastic, deemed arrogant by many, however they are assured their place in history and for Brian Howard Clough, history is assured.

Anders Lustgarten’s adaption of David Peace’s seminal The Damned United is one in which it doesn’t matter whether you like football, it holds little problem if you came to the beautiful game just as the Premier League sank its paws into the spirit and history of the sport. What it is, is a lesson in dogmatic, powerful magnetic personality, that someone such as Brian Clough, a young man who played virtually his whole career in the second division, badly injured, forced to retire early and yet to whom the fans of Nottingham Forest and Derby County worshiped like a saint and to those at Leeds was too big a man, too honest and outspoken of the previous manager, that his actions could not sustain him in the position at the helm of one of the most hated teams of the 20th Century.

With Rod Dixon’s direction and the energy, the reflection of the period in time that was called for and attained by the three actors on stage, The Damned United was an absolute showcase for the cult of personality that had ability to back it up, magnetism, the power to make people believe they were world class; so few football managers down the age could turn the journeyman into legend, and the play was able to produce that with anger, prowess and like the skills of players such as John McGovern, Dave Mackay and Archie Gemmill, the huge heart in which to present to the audience a masterpiece of theatre.

With Luke Dickson capturing the soul of Mr. Clough seamlessly and on a par with the great Michael Sheen in the film adaptation, it would have been easy for the other two actors to appear in the background and be marginalised. However, as David Chafer as Mr. Clough’s right hand man Peter Taylor, and Jamie Smelt as the characters that dominated the off the field action were able to prove, personality drives some along but it is in the action of those that surround them in which the person is either lofted to the height of reverence or allowed to be seen as a pariah figure; a figure in which The Damned United were always going feature.

The Damned United is a fantastic production by the Red Ladder Theatre Company, one of tension, of passion and the animosity that lived between two men, Brian Clough and Don Revie.

Ian D. Hall