Theatre director Sally Reid discusses adapting her hit play Smile for a digital audience

credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

'Grab an hour away from the pandemic doom to enjoy a beautifully funny and touching piece of theatre.'

Taking a 'nostalgic journey through a man's life who just happens to be a well-loved football manager', Dundee Rep's hit play Smile, written by Philip Differ, focuses on the colourful, controversial and hugely successful boss of Dundee United, Jim McLean. First performed in February last year before having its run cut short by the pandemic, it's been restaged and reimagined by the original creative team for new digital platform Rep Studios.

This two-man play once again stars Barrie Hunter as McLean and Chris Alexander as Jimmy, while Smile's returning director is the Perth-born Sally Reid, who you may recognise from her work as an actress in numerous National Theatre of Scotland productions and from TV where she starred in Scot Squad, Rab C Nesbit and Two Doors Down. Reid was able to bring her experience in front of the camera to the table when working out how to breathe fresh life into Smile's story, this time as a filmed production.

Speaking to The List about her vision, Reid explains, 'I wanted to honour the theatricality of the piece which worked so well during the run in 2020 and try to present the textures of the wonderful set and lighting design as best we could and not forget that it is a piece of theatre, filmed in a theatre.' Her inspiration was Sunset Boulevard, shot and performed at the Curve Leicester, with Reid especially admiring 'the way they presented the theatre / auditorium, and the boldness of it.'

As someone who has acted on both stage and screen, Reid was well-placed to advise the actors on adapting their performances. 'We worked on performance levels in the rehearsal room to help the actors pitch it for screen,' she recalls. 'And we were all in agreement that we didn't want to alter the feeling and tenacity of Barrie's performance of Jim, so when it came to filming we kept an eye and ear on it and it translated really well, I think.'

The title certainly gives an indication of the play's spirit-lifting potential. Asked to expand on why Smile might make for a particularly appealing choice for audiences at this difficult time, Reid has this to say: 'It's funny and poignant and I think anyone who has grown up in Scotland will understand the bold and nuanced humour. And also, how to celebrate!'

Smile will be available to watch digitally via Rep Studios from Fri 16 Apr to Sun 16 May. Tickets are available at dundeerep.co.uk/whats-on/smile

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