I must confess that I was bit of a Smiths fan in my youth. I remember purchasing the Japanese import EP on compact disc (yes I am that old) of the classic ‘This Charming Man’ and spending a whole weekend listening to every version on a loop. To this day I could still convince myself of retreating to a commune to ponder on the significance of the lyric “Why pamper life’s complexities when the leather runs smooth on the passenger seat”. I am not sure why I feel the need to confess, after all The Smiths and Morrissey are critically acclaimed. Yet, it is exactly that sentiment that Gary McNair so wonderfully taps into in his one man show ‘Letters to Morrissey’ at HOME.
A show about a Mancunian legend being staged in the city of Manchester, and in a venue that is a stone’s throw away from where The Smiths used to perform at The Hacienda, was always going to create a buzz. There almost seemed to be an expectant fervour amongst the audience in anticipation at this Mozfest that was about to transpire.
Letters to Morrissey is more than just a homage to a would be icon. It is more than just a tribute to The Smiths. It is about McNair being able to look back at a time in his life when he was growing up and how he formed relationships with friends and foe. From Jan the lesbian to the troubled teen and his best friend Tony. It is that relationship that this play places its hook on and whilst the melody of Morrissey’s music is more than a backbeat to the play, as a whole it proves to be incidental.
Indeed, McNair’s one man show is a nostalgic fuelled look at when things were a little bit more simpler. Instead of Spotify playlists, there was vinyl and instead of sending your musical heroes your adulation through 140 characters of Twitter-iffic nonsense, you could just send a letter! And McNair’s character does exactly that, sending his musical hero, Morrissey, several correspondence about his strifes and woes, hoping that Mozza replies with an answer to his prayers.
The success of one man shows really rest with the one man that is performing the show. It sounds kinda obvious when you look at it in the cold light of day, but it is so glaringly obvious that it is sometimes forgotten. Gary McNair rises up to the challenge and commands a remarkably affectionate performance. His wry, irrelevant delivery is captivating at times. Allied to the script he has written, he brings a range of acerbic characters to life through a number of irreverent obtuse observations that strike a chord with the audience on more than one occasion.
Yet, this is more than just the magnetism of one performer holding the audience’s attention. A simplistic if not cliched set is brought to life through some excellent little flourishes. Then there is the sounds, devoid interestingly of Morrissey and Smiths tracks, but nonetheless effective. This really comes into its own as McNair recreates a Morrissey gig at Glasgow Barrowlands through effective use of lighting and a dangling corded microphone. It’s a quiet moment of triumph in Traverse Theatre’s production, it shows that this is more than just McNair going through a range of poses and voice characters to tell his story.
Letters To Morrissey is a tender and touching tale of how we see the world when we were younger and when we see the world when we’re older. Morrissey may distract you somewhat momentarily, but this is more of a personal letter to oneself. For we all have our heroes, we all have lyrics that pull at our heart strings and we all have memories that shape the person that we ultimately become.
Verdict: Gary McNair marvels with a touching tale of looking back at his younger self. His observational commentary and his love of all things Morrissey set this production apart.