Review of Cloughie play


The actor Colin Tarrant hits the right note, quite literally, in his portrayal of the Great Man in the tribute play. He bursts into song, giving a specially-adapted rendition of one of Cloughie's favourites by Frank Sinatra.

Tarrant captures Cloughie's character and charisma brilliantly, from the moment he walks onto the stage in that famous green top and tracksuit bottoms. And it's not simply repeating the words 'young man' in that distinctive northern drawl -- it's much more than that. Tarrant has clearly studied his subject with painstaking accuracy. Even down to the way he used to scratch his head!

'Old Big 'Ead in The Spirit of the Man' is not a biography, although it does include biographical parts. One poignant moment sees him step back into the 1950's when he first met his wife Barbara. In another touching scene he reflects on his relationship with Peter Taylor. He regrets not making it up with his old pal after they fell-out.

The play works on several levels and is not purely about football. Heaven is created on stage, a struggling playwright attempts to rouse his actors -- and Robin Hood is handed his bow. Add the spirit of Cloughie into the mix and you've got a match, quite literally, made in heaven.

Colin Tarrant as Old Big 'Ead

Cloughie's unique style of man management is put to the test as he tries to inspire Jimmy the playwright and his ailing Robin Hood drama. Through it all, if there was any doubt, the Great Man's sense of humour comes shining through.

Perhaps the only thing that doesn't quite ring true is that Cloughie's spirit calls the playwright 'Jimmy' rather than 'James' most of the time. You only have to think of how the Master Manager insisted on calling Teddy Sheringham 'Edward' to imagine him pointing an accusing finger at the stage each time he uses the slang version. "Your mother called you James, young man, so use it."

But I'm sure Cloughie would sing along with the Sinatra song and have a chuckle at the one-liners. When Jimmy (er, James) becomes exasperated with the presence of Cloughie's spirit and tells him, "You're not meant to be here, you don't exist!" The reply comes, "You don't expect a little thing like that to bother Brian Clough, do you?" Cue applause.

There was a standing ovation at the first ever performance (preview, June 3rd, 2005) and the audience rose again to cheer and applaud at the 'official opening' (June 7th). The play's finale leaves a lump in the throat, a tear in the eye...and fans in awe. Just as the Great Man did -- and still does.