Manchester Theatre Awards

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

Rubber Ring

James McDermott
James McDermott
The Studio, The Lowry, Salford
31 October 2017 to 01 November 2017


While appreciating authors need a theme upon which to build a storyline the life and influence of the singer Morrissey is wearing a bit thin. James McDermott’s Rubber Ring is the third play taking such a theme to reach Manchester in 2017.

Although it is not clear whether the play is autobiographical the lead character shares the name of the author. After discovering the songs of Morrissey teenager James stops going out and stays in his room all day playing records and complaining that he lives in a sleepy seaside town rather than London. His mother worries but is unaware that James is facing a deeper crisis: being unable to decide if he is sexually attracted to boys, girls, both or none of them. The urge to attend a concert by his hero in London sets James on a quest that will involve him in stealing money as well as getting the chance to experiment sexually with men, women and transvestites.

Director Siobhan James-Elliott takes a bare bones approach to the staging – there are no props or scenery and sole performer McDermott has to create all of the characters by voice and gesture. McDermott stands stiff like a child performing a recital and his awkward stance serves as a reminder of the inexperience and confusion felt by James.  James-Elliott gradually allows a warmer, more intimate, atmosphere to develop with McDermott leaning forward to chat with the audience and making plenty of eye contact as if we are old friends.

McDermott is a fine writer with an understated dry wit and evocative turn of phrase in the manner of Victoria Wood and Alan Bennett.  The misadventures of James on his quest are both funny and moving and the details are hilarious. A character turns down the dubious pleasure of a ‘golden shower’ as he cannot risk swallowing the glucose in urine.  The bittersweet point of Rubber Ring – that James benefits more from friendship and developing a sense of community than he would from accepting a quick shag- is expressed gently and with conviction.

The plot of Rubber Ring is, however, uneven and building the play around Morrissey is at times distracting. It is hard to believe that a hardcore fan of Morrissey would not have booked well in advance for the concert rather than wait until the actual day to decide to go. McDermott over-does the references to the singer, lyrics are quoted and characters are named after his songs, so that it feels a bit like the author is seeking an easy knee-jerk reaction from the audience.

Reviewer: David Cunningham