Morrissey is well known for being something of a melancholic character, albeit one with a penchant for biting political humour. The protagonist of Half A Person: My Life As Told By The Smiths, from Cross Cut Theatre, is no different. William (it was really nothing) is a twentysomething, sexually ambiguous hipster whose vices include red wine and listening to The Smiths on LP whilst noting how miserable his life is. The narrative of this one man production is a coming-of-age story about a dying friend, unrequited love and a lost girlfriend (Sheila – take a bow) whose lips were as red as “blood from a freshly slit wrist”.
Yes, as you’d expect from a play that takes inspiration from The Smiths, the plot is fairly morbid. Yet this is offset nicely by some wry humour in the script, full of self-deprecating one liners that poke fun at the band – from that weird “Joan of Arc” lyric on Bigmouth Strikes Again (you know the one), to bassist Andy Rourke being known as “the other one”. This is complemented by a terrific performance from Joe Presley as William who balances the many elements of the character through sensitive storytelling – from comedy to tragedy, and with some fine Morrissey-esque singing and awkward mannerisms. The performance is ultimately very touching.
Yet Half A Person is somewhat flawed. The production itself is overly minimal with Presley often accompanied by a void of silence. For a play inspired so heavily by music, there is not enough of it and, when it does arrive, the songs are performed by Presley (with music re-created) in a jarring shift of tone from Morrissey enthusiast to Morrissey impersonator. Half A Person is indebted to the band, but we never actually hear their own music.
Moreover, the narrative is a little shallow, seemingly satisfied with referencing and imitating The Smiths within its own story rather than using the source material to make a valid point about the band or Morrissey himself. A few inconsistencies also hold the show back – what twenty-first century Smiths fan wouldn’t know the band split up years ago? Half A Person, however, remains a charming play with a charming man in the lead role.
Watch: Half A Person is performed on Sundays and Mondays at the Kings Head Theatre.
Photography: Michelle Walsh