The Damned United, Pleasance Theatre

By an anonymous guest critic

There are few sadder sights than two old blokes trying to describe their team scoring a goal. Yet in Red Ladder’s production of The Damned United, we are subjected to this sight a few times. And this isn’t even the worst of its crimes.

As with many adaptations, The Damned United struggles to get out from under the shadow of the excellent film made of this story. Red Ladder don’t really bring us any new angles on Brian Clough’s story, begging the question- why on earth did they bother?

Firstly, the performances: the two lead actors aren’t bad. They both give good accounts of themselves, but distractingly neither actor looks anything like their subject. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem, but there is absolutely no chemistry – or even any sign of affection – between the two lead men. The film version, by comparison, brought a tear to my eye.

Then, there’s the staging: It is patently difficult to recreate football scenes – even dressing room scenes – if you’ve only got three actors. This leads to scenes with projected footballers skulking on the training ground, and the aforementioned football match describe-a-thons.

Lastly, the script: is unforgivably flat. People who know the Clough story aren’t likely to learn anything here – and I wonder if people new to his career will understand what is even going on. The jumping about between the two clubs is messy and confusing.

Also, Clough is known as a big character – a bolshie egotist with a sharp tongue – and we don’t see nearly enough of his sass in this script.

If we’re going to see a rehashing of a successful book and film, we need to be shown the things that theatre can do better than the film version does. This show doesn’t seem to attempt anything other than a hollow imitation.

The Damned United runs through 17 November.

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