Gary McNair and Morrissey – two beta males with uncommon faith in their own artistic vision, and the talent to back it up. McNair, the storytelling playwright and indie theatre darling, has a star firmly in the ascendancy after previous Fringe hits like Donald Robertson Is Not A Stand-Up Comedian and A Gambler’s Guide To Dying. Morrissey, mopey singer and former indie music darling, is in a periodic, hopefully not terminal, career dip, due to a series of recent comments that are beyond the scope of this review to discuss. Suffice to say, reaction to them depends on whether you think he’s voicing the opinion of the misunderstood English working class (like he always has) or you like to use your tweets to “call out” “problematic” people. This isn’t McNair’s attempt to rehabilitate him. In fact, one imagines a few lines have had to be recently added to acknowledge that Moz isn’t in everybody’s good books right now.
In one sense though, Morrissey is most definitely a tool. He is, like stand-up comedy and a gambling grandad were in those previous works, a prism through which McNair can interpret traumatic childhood experience – here, the troubles of a friend living through domestic violence. The young McNair, wanting advice and unable to find it from the usual sources, embarks on unrequited correspondence with his idol, hoping the bequiffed one might give him the insight he seeks. All McNair’s stylistic markers are present and correct – the Jackanory delivery; the tint of nostalgia; the troubled teens; the comic, but kindly, authority figures; the reflection of adult life in childhood. Fans of McNair’s work, or newcomers to his style, will find much to warm to.
But it could have been much more. The wit of Morrissey and the charm of McNair could have combined triumphantly. Yet, although McNair drops more Smiths quotes than Chris Packham on an episode of Springwatch, we get no sense of Morrissey’s singular grip on fans’ imagination, why he wins people over so completely. We’re told he does, but how he does remains elusive. McNair subsumes Morrissey’s style into his own, removing the depth of flavour he could have imparted to the piece, reducing him to mere emblem. This could be anyone who inspires devotion. A gig scene conveys so generic an experience, it could be Foo Fighters playing the O2. No-one wants a Mozzier-than-thou display of fan geekery, but he’s in danger of disappearing into the well-worn grooves of popular imagination, the miserable singer your Granny might have vaguely heard of.
Two outsider wordsmiths, and it turns out this play ain’t big enough for the both of them. McNair wins, and as always has produced a piece of sincerity, humour and kindness, that implores us to look differently at others. That’s objective met. But to have done that whilst also tempting the unconvinced with the power of Morrissey in his prime would have added another dimension.