The name Jim McLean may not be instantly recognisable to many theatre fans but in the world of Scottish football that name carries legendary status. When Smile opened at Dundee Rep in 2020 it was notable that many of its sell out audiences were comprised of football supporters, mostly enjoying theatre for the first time.
Now in 2021, when Theatre has been forced to go digital and the real-life McLean has passed away, Dundee Rep re-imagines Smile in film format and present it on Dundee Rep and Scottish Dance Theatre’s new digital platform, Rep Studios.
McLean was a controversial figure as well as a legendary one. From his early playing days at Larkhall Thistle to a professional career at Hamilton Academical, ‘fitba’ was in his blood, and it’s his reign as the longest serving manager of Dundee United that gained him most notoriety.
Written by Philip Differ, Smile picks up at the end of McLean’s career, acting as a fascinating retrospective of the life and work of a man who came to define Scottish football. Differ’s McLean talks at length with Jimmy, an everyman type character who picks up all the supporting roles that help tell this turbulent life story. The language is strong, but it complements the dry Scottish wit; “you know how I feel about language like that, that’s f***ing disgraceful” says McLean to a young player.
Barrie Hunter takes on the role of McLean with gusto, in his opening monologue anger boils over and you wonder if he’ll survive a full hour in such a high gear, but the mood softens and we start to see a different side of McLean. Chris Alexander, as Jimmy, delves deep in to McLean’s personal life and we start to understand that the harsh bravado is merely a mask for a shy man that struggled to live up to his own expectations, not just in his career, but in family life too.
Sally Reid’s direction gives Smile firm pacing, and the near apocalyptic set gives the production a sense of contemplation. Whether a football supporter, a theatre enthusiast, or both, Smile combines the two in to a fantastic piece of drama which is pitch perfect.
Smile is available to audiences digitally from 16 April to 16 May 2021