Leeds Theatre Review: Promised Land, The Carriageworks
By Sally Hall
Updated Thursday, 28th June 2012
According to Anthony Clavane, whose best-selling book Promised Land won Sports Book of the Year in 2011, 1975 was a watershed year for Leeds.
This was the year the city toppled on the verge of an abyss, besieged by ominous portents of the four ‘R’s.
The snarling hatred of racism – Leeds fans chanting anti-Semitic slurs on the stands. The impending threat of riots. And the terrifying spectre of the Yorkshire Ripper.
But worst of all the ‘R’s was the threat of relegation…the prospect of Don Revie’s boys slipping from their heady spot at the top of English football, which they had occupied with controversial exuberance since ‘The Don’ first buttoned up his sheepskin coat in the early 60s.
Clavane uses the pivotal year of 1975, when the hope of the hippy generation collided with a crunch into the anarchy of the punk era, to weave a story of the city and its football club which aims to capture the ‘Leedsness’ of Leeds.
With a flat-capped nod to Keith Waterhouse’s seminal novel Billy Liar, the play wraps itself around a romance between a dreamy north Leeds lad, Nathan, and sharp-witted Beeston lass Caitlin. Co-written by Clavane with freelance playwright and theatre director Nick Stimson, there is more than a touch of autobiography in the portrayal of Nathan – a warm and funny Jewish boy with his heart firmly rooted in Elland Road and his boots on the steps of the town hall.
To say much more about the play’s debt to Waterhouse would give away the ending – but audiences won’t be watching Promised Land purely for the ‘will they, won’t they?’ moment when Caitlin and Nathan have to choose between their love for each other and their sense of where they each truly belong.
This is a thoughtful, reflective play with lots to say – produced by Red Ladder Theatre Company using a simple but wonderfully symbolic set; the city’s ragged skyline silhouetted above the terraces of Elland Road, with the suitcases of the city’s generations of immigrants embedded into the walls.
As much a tale of identity, hope, circularity and the brusque togetherness of men who call each other ‘love’ and ‘duck’, as a romance or ‘football’ play, the real love story here is Leeds itself.
This is a passionate hymn to the city’s ‘raw, defiant, edgy, playful, mickey-taking, down-to-earthness’ (as Clavane puts it) – and its cast of more than 30 amateur performers capture the mood perfectly. Each actor puts heart and soul into their role, with Paul Fox as Nathan and sweet-voiced David Kendra as Irish-Catholic, Yiddish-speaking boxer Jimmy giving particularly impressive performances.
Themes of deliverance and lands of promise echo through the play – but the inspiration for its title originally comes from a sign which used to hang outside the train station: Leeds: The Promised Land Delivered.
The sign is no longer there, of course – but tonight, just for a moment, it was possible to believe it could be true.
* To Jun 30, Carriageworks, The Electric Press, 3 Millennium Square, Leeds, LS2 3AD. Tel: (0113) 2243801. www.carriageworkstheatre.org
By Sally Hall
Published on Thursday 28 June 2012 11:24 in YEP