Writer: Gary McNai
Director: Gareth Nicholls
Reviewer: Jay Nuttall
“If you don’t know who Morrissey is – get out!” It’s fair enough if you’ve come to see a play with the lead singer of The Smiths in the title. But it need not matter whether you are a fan of the man himself. This story is about much more than simply fan mail.
Gary McNair’s one man show is fresh from a month’s run at the Traverse Theatre during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It is easy to see why it was awarded one of the few Fringe First Awards this year. Riding high on this wave and with the production team at the Traverse behind him, this is a single voice play of the highest quality. As an exceptional theatre maker we are safe in McNair’s hands as he expertly guides us through an angst ridden time in his teenage life.
Who can you talk to about life at age fifteen? Who can you offload all your troubles and insecurities to in the middle of puberty and growing up? Sessions with the school counsellor (who does not know the meaning of the term ‘in confidence’) go nowhere. A slightly troubled soul (but perhaps not out of the norm for a fifteen year old boy) Gary decides to write, as many thousands have done before, to his idol. Of course it is not fan mail rather an portal for communication, a channel for dialogue – even if it is one way.
Set under occasionally illuminated posters of the man and The Smith’s Meat Is Murder album cover, Gary’s bedroom, designed by Ana Ines Jabares-Pita, moves to school, gig and elsewhere with subtle shifts of lighting from Simon Wilkinson. Similarly, Danny Krass’ composition and sound design gently underscore most of the production, skilfully manipulating our emotions, driving the narrative along and heightening certain moments in the play. Gary’s excitement and anticipation of travelling to finally see his hero at Glasgow’s Barrowlands is a particular highlight.
But it is McNair’s story that is at the heart of this piece. We learn of his friendship with another troubled soul, Tony, and the desperate situation he finds himself in. Under the direction of Gareth Nicholls, McNair can deftly move from out-loud funny to heart-breaking with a choice of exposition or turn of phrase. Despite signing off all of his letters to Morrissey as The Boy With The Thorn in His Side and dealing with a subject matter of teenage angst the production never feels trite or clichéd.
As a vessel for those lost in themselves Letters to Morrissey is much more than an homage to one boy’s god. It is a rite of passage, a play about discovery, salvation, youth, obsession and acceptance. Due to McNair’s wonderful storytelling abilities, there is never a dip in the sixty five minute running time, as he waits for any return communication and answers to his questions. As Gary pleads: “Don’t make me write to Bono!”
Reviewed on 12th September 2017 | Image: Contributed