Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Letters To Morrissey

Gary McNair
Traverse Theatre
12 September 2017 to 16 September 2017

Although a working knowledge of the Morrissey oeuvre will undoubtedly enhance your enjoyment of Gary McNair’s affectionate one-man show, direct from its world premiere at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, it’s nowhere near as essential as you might imagine to be as enamoured of the erstwhile Smiths frontman (turned increasingly dubious self-publicist) as its protagonist.

Directed by the Traverse Theatre’s associate director Gareth Nicholls, this stylishly done and involving hour follows up McNair’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe First hit A Gambler’s Guide to Dying, which featured in HOME’s Orbit festival in 2016, and is the final part of a trilogy of darkly comic works drawing on the joys and struggles of growing up in working class Scotland.

Through the medium of letters supposedly written to Morrissey at the turn of the millennium by a conflicted teenager from the outskirts of Glasgow, this is more of an examination of the fears, sadness and loneliness of a teenage misfit turned grown up outsider. It’s about the universal desire to be loved and understood, and the desperation implicit in having to put your faith in that strange pop star you saw on TV in 1997, back when you were 11 and suddenly found someone who “gets” you. You became so obsessed with him, in fact, that later, when you needed someone to help you with your own life, you put your faith in writing to him.

It’s a set-up that simply wouldn’t work in the age of the internet and in the wraparound, twenty years on, Gary remembers the letters and is compelled to ask himself “Has the world changed, or have I changed?”

This is a tender, well written story and the supporting characters McNair creates are, in their own ways, as interesting as the lead. If his best friend Tony feels comparatively incomplete and evasive, that’s part of the mystery too.

It’s pacily delivered and inventively directed, with clever use of lighting and music used to telling effect throughout, although nobody should expect anything even vaguely resembling a Morrissey/Smiths musical. The man himself, should he ever trouble to see it, would probably hate it, of course, which is entirely as it should be.

Reviewer: Kevin Bourke


Comment by David Cunningham

In 2017 Morrissey has been as much Muse as musician. We have had a play and a film based on his life story ( Thorn and England is Mine) and now author and sole performer  Gary McNair uses Morrissey’s lyrics as the basis for an autobiographical monologue Letters to Morrissey.

The odd sensation of hearing ideas that one imagined were personal to oneself articulated by singers and poets is not unusual. As the lyrics of Morrissey have a degree of maudlin self-pity along with the wit and literary references it is easy to see how they would appeal to teenagers. Yet Gary McNair has a rare sense of perspective that prevents the show becoming just a love letter to the singer. He is aware not only of the limitations of his hero but also able to admit that a place he once regarded as awful is not, after all, that bad.

It is this perspective that adds poignancy and depth to Letters to Morrissey so that the show becomes a wistful look back and an assessment of whether it would ever have been possible to do things differently.  The grim sense of observing a life going out of control and being unable to effectively intervene is heartbreakingly captured.

Director Gareth Nicholls gives punchy , dramatic presentation that avoids any of the static sense you sometimes get from monologues.