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Theatre Review: Smile ***

Joy Watters reviews a theatrical portrait of Jim McLean.

The Rep continues its season emanating from the city itself, from the tragedy of the Tay Bridge disaster to the hijinks of Oor Wullie and now into controversy with a portrait of Jim McLean, former manager of Dundee United.

Sally Reid makes her main stage directorial debut with Philip (`Only An Excuse’) Differ’s script, which combines analysis of United’s rise to glory under McLean with an attempt to investigate the true nature of the man.

Barrie Hunter is tasked with portraying the manager, initially effing and blinding at the audience to convey his grim-faced team talks. McLean is given free rein to lambast his players towards success at home and in Europe, and Hunter beautifully encapsulates the buttoned-up rage of the boss.

The story includes his resignation as chairman in 2000 after he punched a reporter in the face during a TV interview.

McLean is a figure that has split opinion for decades, raising questions of whether it is acceptable to behave in that manner to achieve sporting success. Differ includes a scene with McLean actually laughing at a TV programme while at home with his beloved wife, a constant source of support.

A two-hander, Jimmy (an energetic Chris Alexander) narrates and questions McLean, taking him through his life and also plays some of the people who interviewed him. Encapsulating all this in one role does not always assist in the analysis of McLean’s character.

Differ is a master of humour and the rich seam flows throughout the piece, which is just under an hour long and perhaps too short to really get to grips with its subject.

It’s all set in Kenny Miller’s vast grandiose set, where crumbling opera house meets football terracing and tenements.

Runs until March 7th.

Tags: theatre

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