We file into the black basement box that is Traverse 2, squeezing passed award-winning playwright Gary McNair, who is already on stage. He’s lying on his back next to a record player, singing along to some of Mozza’s greatest hits. Then the house lights go down, and the next hour holds moments of real poignancy and proper laughter as McNair’s teenage protagonist uses a series of letters to his coiffed hero to navigate the ups and downs of growing up on the outskirts of Glasgow in a town known as ‘the suicide capital of Scotland’.
The teenage letters written to Morrissey become a means for McNair’s character to deal with issues as various as not having pubes, lying about losing their virginity, avoiding being beaten up in the school playground and the looming threat of domestic violence in a friend’s home.
Writer and performer McNair is a deft, engaging presence and the show’s fun, with my personal highlights being his description of his hair as ‘a wiry, shitey pube-like mess’ and his playground nemesis’s weird, coded, threats (“Ahm gonna go DAVINA MCCALL on you!”). There’s a ton of nostalgia here, but it’s enjoyable stuff — and the desperate magic of seeing your hero on stage at the Barrowlands will strike a chord with a lot of people.
It’s no mean feat to sustain the voice, posture and tone of an adolescent for an hour. McNair copes well but at times it feels like a stretch – I keep wondering how this would have worked as a play with a bigger cast. Letters to Morrissey also aims high – it’s an attempt to deal with issues of masculinity, class and growing up — but it’s a touch heavy-handed at times. There was also a bit of restlessness from the audience towards the end, with a series of false endings; the play would sing more if it was 10 minutes shorter.
Still, this is funny and poignant and definitely for anyone who has felt like the world won’t listen, which is most of us. One wee thing though: McNair mentions Morrissey’s powerful effect on ‘working class lads’ a couple of times. Could you give the working-class lasses a mention too, Gary? Cheers.
Letters to Morrissey runs until 27th August at the Traverse Theatre, various times.