Even the most football-phobic will have heard of the late Brian Clough. Old Big ‘Ead was the term he applied to himself, showing that he had insight into his healthy ego. His supporters might say his arrogance was justified, though - while manager of Nottingham Forest, his teams won two consecutive European Cups.
In Stephen Lowe’s play, Cloughie’s spirit hears the words Forest and Lost, and descends from heaven to rescue his old club from the doldrums. Instead, he finds Jimmy, literally lost in a forest. Jimmy is having a bad day. Having just discovered his wife’s infidelity, he has aimlessly wandered off into the woods; and then Cloughie’s ghost emerges from a tree.
It transpires that Jimmy is a playwright with writer’s block, and Cloughie’s mission is to inspire him – to write about Robin Hood. Tales of Robin Hood are so commonplace, it would be hard to find an original take, and so it proves. The writer is determined to introduce serious themes, particularly about the lasting damage of the Crusades and the ills of the present-day Middle East situation: while a noble idea, it jars dreadfully in this context. The play-within-the-play scenes in the second half disrupt the flow, and detract from the comic whole.
Nonetheless, it’s unfair to damn the entire evening when there is so much that is worth seeing. The petty jealousies, paranoia, and personal crises which intrude during the rehearsal room scenes are particularly well-drawn and nicely played by Ben Goddard, Jamie Kenna, Dave Nicholls and James Warrior.
Many will be familiar with Colin Tarrant from his longstanding role in ITV’s The Bill, as the rather stiff, by-the-book, Inspector Monroe: his performance here is a revelation. He brilliantly captures Clough’s speech patterns and mannerisms but avoids caricature. He is also touching as the gay lead actor in Jimmy’s play, mourning his late partner. John Lloyd Fillingham, engaging and funny as Jimmy, has excellent timing and the two leads are well-matched.
This is very much a game of two halves: the winning formula at the start is only occasionally seen after the interval, but the flashes of brilliance are worth the ticket price.