It’s not often I go to see a play, but I’m a happier and more reflective man for having experienced ‘The Greatest’ at the Oran Mor in Glasgow.
It’s a drama rammed with sharp, jokey dialogue, but it also makes you think seriously about life – about being an outsider (even when young) and about what ageing brings in this era of care homes.
As the title suggests, it’s also about Muhammad Ali, and a visit he made to Scotland in the 1960s.
As we watch a friendship develop between a resident of the care home, Jimmy (Billy MacBain) and the slightly truculent but likeable young blogger Orwell (Rebekah Lumsden), a strange and pleasing story emerges of how Jimmy as a young man had knocked out Muhammad Ali before a wee sparring session got a chance to start.
Ali didn't even have time to pick up his gloves all those years ago when Jimmy – overcome with delight at meeting his hero – decked the world champ! Young Jimmy got slapped around a bit for doing that, but I guess it was worth it.
This play’s written by Alan Muir, a good friend of mine. I used to work with him when we were reporters for the same newspaper in Scotland 20-odd years ago. Even back then I recognised his very strong writing talent, his observational skill and distinct, every-present humour.
But, believe me, this write-up of mine is no puff-piece to boost a pal’s developing career as a writer.
I really, really enjoyed Alan’s play, which was deftly directed by Ron Bain. Its short run to packed houses at the Oran Mor has now finished but there are hopes of staging it elsewhere – perhaps as a part of the Edinburgh Fringe.
I laughed out loud throughout, cried once, and was given to rueful reflection at some very moving scenes. Towards the end, a sad bit was quickly followed by some neat, vulgar wit. That’s good for me; I’m a big fan of sadness and vulgarity.
Overall though, ‘The Greatest’ was simply very uplifting – as was marked by the big standing ovation it received.
When the show finished I made a point of telling Billy McBain how much I’d enjoyed his performance. I’ve only done that sort of thing twice before – once to Babs Windsor in a pub in Soho, London, and another time to Lesley Joseph in a pub in Liverpool. I was quite sober when I spoke to Billy - but I was very, very drunk when I expressed my admiration to Babs and Lesley. All three actors, it must be said, responded with good grace and charm. Babs even kissed me!
After the show finished in Glasgow, I trundled off with Alan Muir and my other friends, and we drank like journalists. A perfect evening.