Authors Clavane and Stimson previously collaborated on a play of Clavane’s ‘sports book of the year’ Promised Land, about the changing fortunes of Leeds Utd and the city the team represents. This time, they turn their attention to a company of Leeds comrades who fought together in the Great War, while also managing to maintain a sporting connection – Leeds Rhinos star Jamie Jones-Buchanan is in the cast, and at the press showing, his teammates are conspicuous in the otherwise bantam-weight audience.
The second-row forward is not the only acting newcomer in the cast, made up of amateurs, professionals and volunteers alike, plus a band playing music written for the piece by Boff Whalley, Beccy Owen and Sam Sommerfield.
It’s hard to say much about the First World War that hasn’t been said many times already, so Leeds Lads makes its angle, and takes as its starting point, the link between a mixed-race young woman whose brother is a soldier in 2013 Afghanistan and her great-grandfather who fought and died in the Somme. Scenes then dissolve with a mellifluous dreamy quality from the present to the past and from the streets of Leeds to the distant battlegrounds, both past and present, of Britain’s imperial military ‘adventures’, played out against a stark background and effective use of silhouette. Along the way, the shifting narrative takes a stab at Britain First and the far right, and notes the contribution of commonwealth personnel to the 1916 push against the Hun that caused astronomical numbers of deaths.
The production is very well staged and the cast make a good go of it. If you’re in the city it’s worth a look, not least to support the community spirit that Red Ladder Theatre Company continues to champion. And if you’re a Rhinos fan, it’s a unique opportunity to see Jones-Buchanan doing something you might not have expected and making a pretty good job of it.