Occasionally my blog allows me to do something special, something I wouldn’t normally get the chance to do. Well it’s happened again this week. I’ve been invited to the press nights of two theatrical events at HOME, Manchester’s contemporary theatre/cinema/art space on First Street.

It seems that HOME has been on its holidays this August, primarily up to Edinburgh where it’s had a high old time trawling the Edinburgh Festival and Festival Fringe for some of the tastiest pieces to show off at HOME to a Manchester audience as the Autumn nights draw in. It’s been a two way process though. The piece I was asked to review for the Manchester Fringe Festival, ‘The Marriage of Kim K’, back in July has been very well received up in the Scottish capital this August.

Last night I was asked to review ‘Letters to Morrissey’ a piece of theatre by Glasgow based Gary McNair. As it had been chosen as being one of the best of the shows on the massive Edinburgh Fringe Festival, by people with an eye for these things, I suspected I would enjoy it but didn’t realise just how much I would do.

First, I have to say I’m not a fan of Morrissey, the Manchester born front man of the iconic band, The Smiths. I know that’s almost heresy in this city but there you are. So when, almost at the start of the evening, Gary McNair, invited anyone who didn’t hold the view that Morrissey was the greatest ever musician to live might want to leave, I wondered if I should. I took a chance and stayed.

As it happens Morrissey’s physical involvement in the evening is minimal, he’s spoken about, written to but never puts in an appearance. It’s set in a dull, depressed, small Scottish town thats only claim to fame is that it’s near Scotland’s preeminent suicide spot. The main character of the piece is a guy who we see in the present but also as a 15 year old, a boy who is introverted and unsure of himself. He doesn’t know what he is or what he wants to do. He is confused and has dark thoughts which appear in his school work. This brings him to the notice, not in a good way, of his teachers and he’s referred to the school’s guidance counsellor. The ‘I’m cool with the kids’ counsellor suggests that the boy finds someone to talk to about his problems. The choice isn’t great. There’s his friend, Jan the Lesbian (that’s how she likes to be known) and his best friend, Tony, who has, we learn, infinity more, and deeper, problems than he does. So he turns to writing to Morrissey in the hope that he will come up with the answers to his problems. As he shares his thoughts and worries with the musician who, stubbornly, won’t reply, we learn more about the boy and his relationships. It would spoil the experience if I told you where it all leads to.

Set in the bedroom of the Morrissey obsessed boy, the piece is dryly witty in some parts, sad and touching in others as we learn more about the boy and his relationships with the other characters in the piece, especially with Tony. It is always absorbing. It’s a powerful monologue, Gary McNair switches from one character to another with consummate ease, his characterisations leaving the audience in no doubt where they are in the story. For it is, indeed, a story we are being told. Having said that I did wonder how much, if any, was autobiographical?

The 65 minute length of the piece passed all too quickly. It’s touching and engaging and, for any 15 year old boys struggling to come to terms with what it’s all about, confirms that, for most of us, it does all come right in the end. I qualify with the word ‘most’ of course. It’s at HOME until this coming Saturday 16th and would be a hour (+5 minutes) very well spent. 

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