Following recent shows about the Tay Bridge disaster and famed Scottish comic strip character Oor Wullie, Dundee Rep’s 2019-20 season continues to focus on its home city with this portrait of football manager Jim McLean.
For the uninitiated, McLean was an old-school Scottish manager in the hard-bitten but fiercely successful mould of Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson and Celtic’s Jock Stein. During the 1980s he won a league title and nearly made it to a European Cup final with Dundee United FC, yet his chairmanship of the club ended in ignominy after a physical altercation with a journalist in 2000.
Here – on Kenny Miller’s towering building site of a set – the ever-reliable Barrie Hunter plays McLean with the gruffness of a sleeves-rolled-up Scots professional of a certain age, frozen in amber in his early 60s when McLean left United. Next to him, Chris Alexander plays sounding board Jimmy, the youthful other half of McLean’s internal dialogue, and a procession of characters from his life.
In Philip Differ’s sharply amusing yet poignant play, Hunter’s McLean wrestles with the unfamiliar weight of introspection as he tries to square his dogged commitment to hard graft with the internalised fear that he may not have been an adequate father, liked by his players or remembered beyond his final indiscretion.
Differ doesn’t quite pull of the notoriously difficult trick of translating the footballing success into words. There is also added poignancy in that local hero McLean is still alive, but has dementia. In capturing a sense of twilight years spent snatching at flashes of purpose and self-worth, Differ’s play and director Sally Reid’s confident production give his story universal life.