Unlike most Smiths fans, I’m something of a contradiction in that I do not have warm, fuzzy feelings for Morrissey. There’s just something about him that leaves me cold. Maybe I’ve seen too many interviews where his literary brilliance turns into arrogance. Or maybe I’m still harbouring resentment on behalf of a friend who went to see him play, only for him to perform one song before walking off stage.
Either way, this created an uncomfortable setting for the first ten minutes of Letters to Morrissey, a one-man show from Gary McNair which teasingly opened by asking any non-Morrissey fans to leave immediately (I conveniently found a spot on the floor to concentrate on).
Morrissey’s marmite effect is readily anticipated in this hour-long monologue which follows the journey of a young man growing up in 90s Glasgow. “Some people think you’re an arsehole but I’ve always defended you,” cries an earnest 15-year-old, played by the brilliant McNair as he begins a one-sided stream of correspondence to the Smiths frontman after being prompted by his school counsellor to find someone he can talk to.
Finding answers, understanding how you fit in and friendship are just some of the themes that run throughout. We are given slim glimpses of McNair’s friendship with Tony which gradually develops into the play’s central relationship – simple yet complex, morose yet hopeful, it’s a relationship which encapsulates many of Morrissey’s own personas.
Theatre 2 at Manchester’s HOME is pretty snug but it worked well for such an intimate performance – walking in to McNair lying on the floor, humming along as the Smiths played on a 90s turntable. And the set came together perfectly – illuminated posters that pinpointed a time or place within the story. Similarly, it somehow managed to capture that magical mix of sweat, beer and the sheer exhilaration of being at a gig with only a few props.
There were times throughout when I felt slightly exhausted by the multiple characters adopted by McNair – Tony, ‘Jan the lesbian’ and the erratic school counsellor to name a few – but as the play progressed, these came together much more fluidly. And McNair’s ability to carry multiple characters with so much energy was admirable.
Some 60 minutes later and McNair’s powerful monologue had given me a new perspective on Morrissey. A self-proclaimed working class indie kid who’d always been taught to disengage his emotions, Morrissey “dared him not to fit in”. Which, when you think about it, is a tempting offer.
Letters to Morrissey is at Manchester’s HOME until September 16, 2017. For more information, click here.