Confession time: I’ve never been a fan of The Smiths or Morrissey. Oh, I recognise their importance in British popular culture, the innovative high quality of their work—but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Perhaps I was just the wrong age; or, more likely, I wasn’t the right kind of indie kid who could grasp Morrissey’s fey persona and “fuck-you” attitude as inspiration to be themselves, to dare to be different.
McNair is well-skilled at squeezing your heart one moment, then making you laugh the next—all while standing in front of you, staring you straight in the eyes.
Many were, of course, including our narrator in Gary McNair’s latest one-man play. What is fascinating about McNair’s apparent belief—in Morrissey being someone whom his teenage self could relate to and seek guidance from—is how universal that searching for support and meaning actually is. Even though I’m someone who usually thinks of Morrissey only in terms of “flagrant narcissist” or “pretentious prat”, McNair’s solid foundation is the authenticity of his story’s emotional core; a reminder, certainly, “that other things are possible”, even if the reality seems that “some labels will just stick”, no matter what you do.
The staging is simple, though it could be even simpler; the wall of bright lights and illuminated Smiths album covers (courtesy of Ana Inés Jabares-Pita) almost feel like an embellishment too far when you have a performer as strong as McNair on stage, although they do admittedly add a degree of atmosphere at set moments, not least the almost religious euphoria our narrator feels when he finally gets to see Morrissey perform live at Glasgow’s iconic Barrowlands. But this is ultimately about a writer/performer hitting all the right notes with a emotive coming-of-age tale (of sorts).
Ably supported by Gareth Nicholl’s direction, McNair is well-skilled at squeezing your heart one moment, then making you laugh the next—all while standing in front of you, staring you straight in the eyes. You don’t even need to know who Morrissey is to really feel his story of the self-described “Boy with the Thorn in his Side”—a Smiths’ song-title, naturally. One way or another, we all have our own Morrissey.