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Review Promised Land

The story of Leeds in the early 1900s to 1970s, as seen through the eyes of two different individuals, takes to stage at the Carriageworks

Review: Promised Land

I’ve been a fan of the Red Ladder Theatre Company for a number of years now. This is a Leeds based company that I would describe as “For the people, by the people” as many of their productions in the past have been about local events or by local writers and where possible they have auditioned and used local actors and actresses in these.

And so it is with their latest production, Promised Land. The show is being performed with a large cast of thirty local participants and live band and is based on the book of the same name written by Anthony Clavane. He describes in his book (and now in the play) how 1970s commuters arriving at Leeds station would journey past slagheaps to be greeted by a sign pronouncing "The Promised Land – delivered". With that piece of tragicomedy as his starting point, the Leeds-born history teacher-turned-sports reporter traced the histories of the two Leeds football teams (United and the forgotten predecessor, City) alongside that of the city itself.

The stage adaptation tells that same story through the eyes of Nathan and Caitlin, two young idealists growing up in mid-1970s Leeds, living in the same city but on opposite sides of a cultural and religious divide. Nathan comes from a Jewish background whilst Caitlin is from a Roman Catholic upbringing. The play seamlessly moves back to the early 20th Century when Nathan’s grandfather Avrom first came to the City to set up his tailoring business and then returns to the 1970’s, alternating between the two periods on a regular basis throughout the two hours of the production. This gives great scope for the various actors, from the sweatshop of the tailoring business in 1900 to the terraces of Elland Road and Kirkgate Market where Nathan’s father Dave runs his sweets and fancy goods stall in the 1970’s.

The fact that all the actors in the show are local people and that none of them are professionals make the overall production so much more remarkable. One would honestly think that this was a professional production such is the talent on show and Director Rod Dixon has done a superb job to hone these amateur actors and actresses to produce such a great performance.

Whilst not wishing to detract from the many excellent performances by the cast as a whole, I do need to highlight a number of individuals for their outstanding contributions to the production. Firstly Paul Fox as Nathan and Lynsey Jones as Caitlin, the two young lovers from totally different upbringings. Both of these turned in excellent portrayals of these characters which is so central to the plot. They were greatly supported by Steve Morell as David and Fiona McCulloch as Miriam his wife (Nathan’s parents), plus Tony Spirrett as Mick & Catherine Land as Martha, Caitlin’s parents. I was also highly impressed with Nick Ahad in the role of Avrom, Nathan’s grandfather, and also by Richard Galloway in his portrayal of the 1970’s Leeds United manager – “The Don” i.e. Don Revie.

The sets by Kelly Jago were highly impressive as were the costumes designed by Naomi Parker. The production takes place at 7.30 pm each night until Saturday 30th June, with a matinee performance on Saturday at 2 pm and I would highly recommend this to everyone – even if you are not a supporter of “The Mighty Whites” as it is as much about the history and culture of Leeds as it is about the team and its supporters.

Posted on Tuesday 26th June 2012
John Burland

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