The Scotsman

Theatre and football fans united in rare celebratio­n


If coronaviru­s had not intervened, May 2020 would have seen an extraordin­ary ceremony take place outside the gates of Tannadice Park in Dundee.

After a campaign that raised more than £60,000 from Dundee United fans, a statue had been commission­ed from sculptor Alan Herriot in honour of the greatest manager in the club’s history, Jim Mclean, who led the club from 1971 to 1993, and remained as chairman of the board until 2000, when he resigned after punching a BBC reporter during a postmatch interview. The statue was to have been put in place this month.

Under Mclean’s leadership, Dundee United won the League Cup in 1979 and were League champions in 1983; the team reached the semifinals of the European Cup in 1984 and the final of the Uefa Cup in 1987, and appeared in six Scottish Cup finals. It was a record unparallel­ed in the history of Dundee football; and one celebrated in many a Tannadice football chant, including the great celebrator­y roar of “There’s only one Jim Mclean”.

As the incident that ended his Dundee United career showed, though, being the “one Jim Mclean” was never a simple business. His explosive rages and sometimes grumpy demeanour became a vital part of his public persona, a front concealing what those who knew him well often described as a shy and genial character, with a wonderful, dry sense of humour.

So when the writer Philip Differ decided to try his hand at writing a theatre show about Mclean’s life and personalit­y – eventually commission­ed by artistic director Andrew Panton as part of this year’s Dundee Rep 80th anniversar­y season – it was with a touch of irony that he called it Smile. Indeed he says that he knew he was on the right track with the play when he told Mclean’s family, including his wife Doris, about the planned title and they all immediatel­y started to laugh.

Today, Mclean suffers from a form of dementia and lives in a Dundee care home; but here, the actor and Rep ensemble member Barrie Hunter – famous for dozens of fine performanc­es in Scottish theatre over the years, and for his extraordin­ary efforts as author and dame in recent Perth Theatre pantomimes – offers us a glimpse of the Mclean he recreated in an extraordin­ary performanc­e at the Rep in February and March of this year.

In a production directed by Scotsquad star Sally Reid, and featuring a striking design by Kenny Miller, Chris Alexander played a kind of footballin­g everyman – player, fan, colleague and critic – to Hunter’s remarkable version of Mclean; not an attempt to mimic the man in his prime but rather a huge leap of imaginatio­n into the inner world of a manager who made even greater demands of himself than he did of others, and was often riven by rage and disappoint­ment.

At Dundee Rep, the play brought together theatre and football fans in a rare moment of shared celebratio­n, just before the Covid-19 crisis plunged both great forms of public performanc­e into silence; but when lockdown finally eases, there is every chance that this remarkable stage vision of Mclean and his life will appear again, in theatres across Scotland.

 ??  ?? 0 Barrie Hunter’s remarkable version of Jim Mclean is not an attempt to mimic the football manager
0 Barrie Hunter’s remarkable version of Jim Mclean is not an attempt to mimic the football manager

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