Leeds theatre companies head to Edinburgh Fringe

Leeds-based Red Ladder's The Damned United will be at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.
Leeds-based Red Ladder's The Damned United will be at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.
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It’s that time of year again when performers, theatre companies and artists from around the world head up North to Edinburgh for the world’s largest and most famous arts festival.

The good news is that this summer there will be a strong representation of Yorkshire companies in the mix at the Fringe. Leeds-based Red Ladder, fresh from their success in rejoining Arts Council England’s National Portfolio, will be taking an intimate new staging of their production of The Damned United.

The play, based on David Peace’s bestselling novel, received its world premiere at the West Yorkshire Playhouse last year and proved to be very popular with audiences and critics alike.

The original creative team, including Red Ladder’s artistic director Rod Dixon and playwright Anders Lustgarten, have created a new pared-back and up-close version of the piece as a company of three – Luke Dickson, David Chafer and Jamie Smelt – take audiences through the tumultuous 44 days of Brian Clough’s brief time as manager of Leeds United in 1974. The small-scale reworking has been touring arts venues and non-traditional spaces around Yorkshire prior to its Edinburgh run.

“This ingenious story with Clough as its tragic anti-hero, lends itself brilliantly to a gritty and stripped-back staging,” says Dixon. “The Damned United has it all – passion, power struggles and tragedy, so it holds great appeal, not just with theatre fans, but football fans, first time attendees and all those of us who have been gripped by David Peace’s novel.”

Yorkshire-born Peace famously donated the rights to The Damned United for a nominal sum as part of the Save The Red Ladder campaign in a show of support for the company. “For me it was a wonderful, humbling and exciting experience to see the original production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse last year,” he says. “I’ve no doubt that Red Ladder will prove once again that radical theatre can be a great and entertaining night out.”

For Bradford-based Mind the Gap, England’s largest learning disability theatre company, it is a particularly exciting time as this will be their first tour to the Edinburgh Fringe in 12 years. Their production Mia originally toured studio venues around the UK in autumn last year and received outstanding reviews. Since then it has been updated with some new elements being introduced.

“We use music, dance, live film, pre-recorded film and symbols to create an episodic piece of theatre,” says Joyce Nga Yu Lee, the creator and director of the piece. “It is fast moving and raw, funny and bold – in short Mia is a wild ride. I am thrilled that the piece we have all worked so hard on is going to reach a larger and international audience.”

Performed by four learning disabled artists Mia explores the truths and myths about learning disability and parenthood in today’s society; it is a piece about humanity that aims to resonate with everybody with or without a disability.

“I want to see an audience that isn’t made up of just people with a vested interest in those with learning disabilities,” says cast member JoAnne Haines. “I want to see people in the audience that might never have considered this issue.”

Hull-based theatre company Silent Uproar are preparing to make their first trip to the Fringe this year with their show A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad). Created with suppport from Leeds-based independent producer Little Mighty, it is a bold, ground-breaking production, written by Olivier-award winning playwright Jon Brittain, that explores mental health issues using comedy, music and drama.

Desribed as ‘a hilarious cabaret musical about depression’ it was inspired and influenced by the company’s own experiences, their work with charities such as Mind and The Samaritans and interviews with people living with mental health problems and medical professionals. You can catch the show at Slung Low this weekend before the company head North.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs from August 4-28. More details www.edfringe.com

Mia runs at Summerhall Old Lab August 8-27. A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) is at Slung Low, Leeds on July 30, the Pleasance Edinburgh August 2-28. Red Ladder’s The Damned United is at Pleasance Courtyard/Pleasance Above August 2-28.