The Greatest

Oran Mor, Glasgow

Mary Brennan, five stars

BACK in the 1960s, when Jimmy was fighting fit – maybe not the greatest boxer, but handy with his fists – he never thought he’d end his days drably in a care home. On medication for a dodgy ticker, forbidden by the staff to smoke, but still with all his wits about him – unlike his fellow residents. However, these codgers in the grip of dementia have family who visit them...the only person who ever benefits from Jimmy’s pawky patter is Christine, the kindly care assistant – yet even Christine (Louise Montgomery) reckons Jimmy’s anecdotal memories are figments of an old man’s wool-gathering imagination. Him knock out Muhammed Ali? Aye, right, Jimmy...

If Alan Muir’s play – his first to be performed – is a roguishly funny account of a bittersweet scenario, he doesn’t limit its scope to Jimmy’s nippy observations on end-of-life options. Instead, he introduces Orwell (Rebekah Lumsden), a bolshie teenage girl who is herself a bit a loner. An unlikely friendship builds between the carnaptious old geezer and Lumsden's convincingly opinionated video blogger, but – will Orwell believe Jimmy’s story about flooring Ali? Watching Jimmy vividly conjuring up the minutiae of that meeting, drawing Orwell (and us) into the narrative, has our hopes rising and fingers crossing that Orwell will junk her default cynicism and believe. And that’s because of William McBain’s utterly persuasive performance as Jimmy: a man chockful of resilient gusto, despite dark times he doesn’t dwell on. A gallus wee Glesca’ man, awash with snash and repartee – Muir’s script could give away half its gags to other needier plays, and still be a laugh-a-thon, where, abetted by Ron Bain’s direction and McBain’s delivery all the punchlines hit their target. And if a lump creeps into your throat at the end? ‘Nuff said – just go!