Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Promised Land at The Carriageworks - Review

Richard Wilcocks writes:
Anthony Clavane spoke about his best-seller Promised Land: A Northern Love Story in an event entitled The Lingo of Sport, which took place in the New Headingley Club as part of the LitFest in March. He spoke about the diversity of his native city, about what it means to be a writer celebrating Leeds and about a certain football club with a remarkable history. “I’m working on a dramatic adaptation at the moment,” he told us, “along with a co-writer, Nick Stimson.

“It is going to be full of music, and probably dancing as well. It will be the same narrative, but things will be seen through the eyes of Nathan and Caitlin, two young people with plenty of ideals who are on two sides of a religious and cultural divide: Nathan is from a Jewish background while Caitlin’s ancestors were Irish Catholics.”

Somebody in the audience mentioned West Side Story. “No, not exactly that. It’s not a romantic tragedy. It’s more of an affirmation. They fall in love and get together and that’s it for them. There will be a lot of flashbacks to what happened at the turn of the twentieth century when Jews were arriving, escaping from pogroms in the Russian Empire, and also to the time when Don Revie was revered as the saviour of Leeds United, when The Mighty Whites reached the European Cup Final in Paris. The play is based on facts and research.”

Now that play with music (not ‘musical’) has launched at the Carriageworks, thanks to the Red Ladder Theatre Company and a very strong community cast. On the opening night (25 June), most of the audience fell in love with it: they clapped along, laughed and in some cases cried. I have seen a few ‘community plays’ and this was the best and most enjoyable by a long chalk in that wide category.

For a start, it is superbly-rehearsed, with tight and effective direction by Rod Dixon, who can turn a crowd of amateur (hard to believe) actors into a kind of dancing animal, sometimes aggressive and riotous, sometimes sublimely happy and sometimes chorus-like, commenting on the action. It becomes a crowd of swaying, chanting scarf-brandishers on the terraces, the inmates of a sweatshop somewhere near the Jewish ghetto (called The Leylands in Leeds), a bunch of vicious racists addressed up by a ranting anti-semite and much else. There is stirring music from the Red Ladder Band, I think not enough of it: there could have been at least one more Klezmer number and one more song with an Irish flavour. The footwork is nifty at all times.

Nathan, who represents Clavane, is played by the talented Paul Fox with wit and charm. The author must feel flattered, indulged even. Lynsey Jones is an equally charming Caitlin, and she acts (and plays guitar) with real spirit. Steve Morrell is a very credible David, stallholder in Kirkgate Market and Nick Ahad plays an exploiting boss as a cross between a cartoon capitalist in a top hat and a soft-edged gangster.

Yes, the story is predictable, mainly because it has to be, because it is based on local history and we know that the action is going to end up… here, and yes, the two lovers face only the small problem of their parents’ prejudices (a really funny scene with the two mothers discussing their offspring while drinking tea on a sofa) rather than a secret marriage and murderous relatives, but that’s not the point. The point is that it is a celebration, which might be a bit earnest and possibly a little sentimental, as we hang on those two words ‘Leeds’ and ‘United’.

There are scenes in it which remind us, as well, that we have no reason to feel smug in this country after watching that Panorama programme on crudely racist football hooligans in Poland and the Ukraine. We had them here in the seventies, just as bad. Some of them are still active.

It’s quite an achievement, to turn a book like that into good night out at the theatre.

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