Gary McNair spins a yarn of doomed childhood friendship and Morrissey obsession
Gary McNair's new solo show is about a man for whom two lights never go out. He steadfastly adores the Mozfather, refusing to withdraw his fandom despite fully acknowledging the erstwhile Smith's terrible faults as a human being. And he draws a parallel with his troubled childhood friend Tony, who is in serious trouble at home and ostracised at school. And rock icon and friend are pulled together by the titular letters, in which the fan writes to Morrissey, asking what he should do about his friend Tony.
I call him ‘the fan’ because it’s never entirely clear whether ‘Letters to Morrissey’ is reasonably autobiographical or entirely fictional (though related entirely in the first person, McNair never explicitly confirms or denies that this is a story about Gary McNair, simply signing off his letters to Mozzer as The Boy with the Thorn in His Side).
I’m not sure it’s necessarily the sort of thing that should bother me too much (it’s theatre after all), but something slightly nagged me about the form: it feels like it’s important that you believe in the story for it to work, because the appearance papers over its more explicitly sentimental moments. I suspect the actual use of Morrisey's music would have helped it vault over these hurdles, but there’s a distinct a lack of his work beyond teasing intros, though Simon Wilkinson’s wonderful lighting suddenly plunges you into the feeling of being at a rock gig at the flick of a switch. And beneath the surface there's interesting stuff about the essential appeal of Morrissey: for all his misanthropy, it's the alternative path through masculinity he offers that looms as large as the songs.
Still, McNair's performance is heartfelt, and one assume he at least knew somebody like Tony, and presumably is a fan of Morrissey. In that respect the credibility of the slightly out there yarns about the zany headteacher or bolshy lesbian pal are beside the point. (You could probably send yourself mad wondering if there is a deliberate contrivance at work designed to mirror that of Morrissey’s own arsenal of sensitive character studies).
Were there ever any letters to Morrissey? I’d guess not. But their contents have the ring of sincerity, and probably that's enough.