Letters to Morrissey review at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh – ‘angst-ridden and sentimental’

Gary McNair in Letters to Morrissey. Photo: David Monteith-Hodge Gary McNair in Letters to Morrissey. Photo: David Monteith-Hodge

Solo Scottish storyteller Gary McNair was made an associate artist at the Traverse back in February, and he returns to the theatre this fringe with another trademark tale of deftly woven remembrances and wistful wisdom, this time revolving around the angst-ridden escapades of a teenage Morrissey devotee.

McNair, alone on a sparse stage littered with vinyl, jumps between straightforward narrative, impersonated dialogue, and read-aloud fan mail, evoking the melancholic, millennial life of an awkward, prepubescent teen and slowly drip-feeding a hard-hitting story of friendship, mental illness, and domestic abuse.

You don’t have to love the Smiths to love McNair’s show, but it probably helps; Letters to Morrissey is semi-ironically infused with the band’s familiar maudlin mopey-ness, and McNair himself embodies a softly-spoken sentimentality throughout.

It’s only arresting up to a point, though. McNair is a consummate storyteller, and Gareth Nicholls’s slick, guitar-infused staging creates moments of exquisite energy, but the show never satisfactorily shows its hand. It could be a comment on ill-conceived idolatry, or a social study of adolescent life in a deprived town, but – perhaps embracing Morrissey-esque obliqueness – it ends up being neither.

An angst-ridden hour of sentimentality and Morrissey-worship from Scottish storyteller Gary McNair