The Kings Arms, Salford
24 July 2017 to 25 July 2017
Although the poster for Thorn is reminiscent of the famous photo of The Smiths outside Salford Lads’ Club and the main character shares the name of the group’s lead singer advance publicity is vague on whether the play is a biography of Morrissey.
Initially is seems as if author Tim Keogh is going to be content to describe the background that influenced the development of The Smiths’ frontman. We now know that, in the 1970’s, sexual predators disguised as family entertainers from television were able to do as they pleased. Apparently the decade featured also psychopathic priests and brutal headteachers who didn’t know the names of their pupils and had wandering hands whenever a pupil’s mother visited their school. It is a wonder that any of us escaped unharmed.
Keogh goes to immense trouble to set the period and locality. The event that prompts Steven (Daniel Murphy) to experiment with his appearance and consider his sexuality is a 1972 TV appearance by David Bowie in his androgynous phase. It is specified that the Virgin record shop is on Lever Street rather than Market Street. However, as the play reaches its conclusion efforts at universality end and it moves towards a biography with a growing number of in-jokes and references to song titles.
Thorn is essentially two plays for the price of one – the first is a coming of age drama to which anyone who was a teenager in the 1970’s could relate and the second is a biography of Morrissey. It is an ambitious approach but trying to achieve so much in such a short running time means that corners have to be cut.
The play becomes a series of snapshots and broadly drawn characters. Adam Waddington’s Dad opens the play as a broadly comedic racist character, goes on to be seen as a father struggling to be supportive of his son and finally a bully who terrorises his family. But there is simply not enough time to draw out the factors that might have influenced these developments so they just seem to happen.
Efforts to convey the emotions underlying developments nudge the play towards melodrama. In responding to her husband’s casual racism and the headteacher’s pig-ignorance Steven’s Mother (Elizabeth Poole) sounds like she is lecturing rather than developing an argument.
It is a very large cast which gives director Chantell Walker the chance to make a strong impact with background developments. When Steven is attacked by a racist two of his school friends stand by hunched with embarrassment unsure how they should react.
The sheer ambition of Thorn prevents it from being fully successful. At present Thorn feels like a play straining to achieve too many goals – as a domestic coming of age drama set in the 1970’s and as a biography . Concentrating on one of these or allowing a longer running time might allow the themes to be explored in more convincing depth.
Reviewer: David Cunningham