Gary McNair’s journey from hysterical teenage idolisation of the pop icon Morrissey to a more nuanced, conflicted appreciation of him is really interesting to watch, guided along, as it is, by the steady hand of director (and frequent collaborator) Gareth Nicholls.
At its heart, the play is the old lesson about never meeting your heroes, without the trauma of the meeting ever actually taking place.
Faced with a horrendous dilemma, a fifteen-year-old Gary is told by his guidance counselor to find someone to talk to, before it destroys him from the inside out. Inevitably, he turns to the biggest presence in his life: Morrissey.
As McNair’s letters go unanswered, his teenage self is forced to scrabble around for help within his own cobbled-together support network, grasping for wisdom in any form it takes.
As his world opens up, McNair realises that the untouchable, venerated outsider status he has given himself doesn’t stand up to scrutiny: he’s only as complex as everyone else, good people can do bad things, and some Morrissey fans are, in fact, racist. It becomes a play about realising everyone is the protagonist in their own story, and this realisation feels like it transitions McNair into the beginnings of adulthood.
Unsurprisingly, the show pivots on McNair’s performance. You feel for him as his younger indie-puppydog self, and his transformations into supporting characters are slick and push the piece forward at an excellent pace. By the end, I felt genuinely moved by the journey of a recurring character I had (wrongly) assumed might have been a passing comedic construction that we never saw again.
The show isn’t perfect: some of the character-based anecdotes feel like they tie up too neatly, like little sitcom scenes, which jarred with me a bit in a show that otherwise feels confessional and raw, but Letters to Morrissey is charming, funny, looks beautiful, and, I suspect, will come back to me every time I listen to Meat is Murder, which is no bad thing at all.
Words: Tom Birch
Picture: David Monteith Hodge
Letters to Morrissey, Traverse Theatre, Aug 3-27 (not 7, 14, 21), times vary