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RAD Theatre Review: Dundee Uniteds football pervert brought to hilarious grimacing life in SMILE!

Updated: Nov 7, 2022

He was the manager described by one player as a “football pervert”. An obsessive with a ruthless drive to win, Jim McLean was a master of the pitch. He turned Dundee United from a team of no-hopers at risk of relegation into a powerhouse squad that could take on Europe’s finest. But in terms of interpersonal skills, he was lacking. The title of Philip Differ’s play is ironic:

it could well be called Grimace. All of which makes McLean a tricky subject for dramatisation.

As presented here in this funny two-hander, he is a man not given to reflection. When pressed, he’ll label himself a bad father and an unempathetic coach, but his devotion to the game

overrides any guilt. “Je ne regrette fuck all,” he says. Had the playwright had the luxury of fiction, he might have set McLean up as an unyielding Coriolanus or an explosive Basil Fawlty, a character whose anger wreaks havoc with tragic or comic effect. But McLean is still alive and the facts of his career well known, from his arrival at Dundee United in 1971 to league victory in 1983 and fall from grace in 2000 with an on-camera assault on a BBC reporter. There’s a classic narrative arc there – the outsider who triumphs only to be defeated by the very quality that made him successful. But Differ feels obliged to tick off the facts and figures of McLean’s life first. The result is a brisk dramatised biography, with Chris Alexander doubling as fans, interviewers,

commentators and Lorraine Kelly, all of whom serve as foils to Barrie Hunter’s McLean.

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Sally Reid’s witty production, with its towering set of dilapidated grey tenements by Kenny Miller, is more ambitious than the play strictly deserves, but Hunter brilliantly captures the manager’s buttoned-up fury. All that’s stopping his neck muscles from erupting is his regulation suit and tie. Asked to suggest a pose for a McLean statue, he earns a round of applause simply for wagging his finger, a hilarious embodiment of the man’s rage and restraint.

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Teaser of the play.

Cast: Barrie Hunter, Jim McLean

Writer: Philip Differ

Director: Sally Reid

Designer: Kenny Miller

Lighting Designer: Lizzie Powell

Sound Designer: Fiona Johnston

Dramaturgical Support: Finn Den Hertog


Akshinta Das is a graduate from Fergusson College. She did her graduation in English Literature. Her passion interests lies in music and the creative arts. She loves to write and direct plays

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