Billed as A Northern Love Story, Anthony Clavane's acclaimed sports book of the year has been turned into a play with music, adapted by himself, Nick Stimson, and directed by Rod Dixon with musical arrangements by Beccy Owen.
The Yorkshire equivalent of a mixture of Mama Mia, Fiddler on the Roof and the History Boys, I was a guest at the press evening at The Carriageworks on Millenium Square opposite City Hall in the city centre last night. It was well worth the visit, and after England had been dumped out of yet another tournament at the quarter final stage the night before, a nice pick me up.
I must admit that I am not much of a theatre goer, more couch potato in front of the telly, but the last play I went to was another with a footy theme, Alf Ramsey Knew My Grandfather, in Durham a couple of years ago.
It was more play than musical, with the singing more Spion Kop than La Scala, and tells the tale of The Promised Land, as Jewish immigrants fled the violent pogroms from Russia and nearby states for a new life in England. Anthony's great grandparents left Lithuania as many others did, via Hamburg, Bremen and other ports to Hull on the Humber and train to Leeds station. Many more continued on to Liverpool and across the Atlantic to New York, Boston, Baltimore.
Those that made their home in Leeds followed immigrants from Scotland and Ireland, and had a rough time. The play is set in the period from 1900 to the late 1970's and Don Revie's football revolution at Elland Road. The play is by, for, and about Leeds. The newcomers would be taken by handcart to nearby The Leylands a slum area now cleared. They progressed and moved up to Chapeltown Road which is now West Indian territory and the famous Jewish fish and chip shop CANTOR'S has changed hands and clientel and now sells Southern friend chicken, and goat and other specialty cafes are nearby.
Jewish customers poured out of Jubilee Hall to meet, chat and be served by Harold and Sylvia Cantor, and later by son Lawrence. They used olive oil rather than lard for cooking.
The Jews have now moved up to Moortown and Roundhay and the cafe society of Street Lane where I hang out. However Jewish ingenuity and kindness has poured into hospital buildings and the arts, with Edward Ziff, CEO of Town Centre Securities and the Merrion Centre sponsoring Red Ladder Theatre and this production
I first came to live in Leeds in 1960(the year the author was born here) to, attend university, and a year before The Don arrived, to play sports and try Newcastle Brown Ale or nut brown ale in the local pubs and the student's union. It was still a grimey, dirty city with manufacturing, tailoring, smokestacks and slums. Before students wore jeans I usually had a folded cotton handkerchief in the breast pocket of my blazer. After a few days I would unfold it and there would be two blackened squares. These days banking and service industries are to the fore, the canals and rivers have been cleaned up, and you can breath in the sweet air from the Yorkshire Dales.
Leeds station is the busiest outside London, its a tourist, shopping and conference centre, with an expanding airport, and by 2013 will be the biggest retail city outside the capital and the new Leeds Arena on Clay Pit Lane will be the mecca for local talent such as The Kaiser Chiefs and the nation's most important music and festival city.
The amateur cast of 30 plus a small five person band is both enthusiastic and passionate. Two acts and 13 scenes(or 12 and 12b for superstitious reasons). It's about a Jewish and an Irish Catholic family from Beeston whose Leeds United fan son Nathan (Paul Fox), a wanna be writer, who works in the market, falls in love with a a catholic guitar strumming anti everything hippy Caitlin (Lynsey Jones). The cast go MARCHING ON TOGETHER for a fun and entertaining show.
Set in Kirkgate Market, Avrom Ber's Yard, Wembley '74, Elland Road, Briggate, City Square, Beeston Flats , The Queen's Hotel and Leeds Station, a cross section of the city. Leeds was dirty and opponents called the team Dirty Leeds. However, The Don, who arrived as player manager in 1961, changed the strip from amber and blue to all white, to match the ambitions of famous Real Madrid.
They played real football with Billy Bremner, Paul Madeley, Peter Lorimer, Johnnie Giles, Jack Charlton and more and were robbed by a bent French referee in the 1975 European Cup Final against Bayern Munich in Parc des Princes in Paris, by which time Revie was managing England, Brian Clough had come and gone and my old school mate Jimmy Armfield was in charge.
Promised Land is only here for a week, but perhaps we will see it in The West End and/or Broadway... but not in Manchester. Maybe even a sequel now that it seems that the seven year reign of current Leeds United owner Ken Bates is finally over and he is selling out this week. 'More Promising Land' with a Hallellujah Chorus maybe?