Half a Person: My Life as Told by the Smiths
Benito Di Fonzo
Metro, Sydney Morning Herald. September 21, 2007
The songs of the miserable Morrissey inspire a stage show.
Cnr King & Bray Sts, Newtown
20 September 2007 to 29 September 2007
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Who would have thought that inside Alex Broun - playwright, rugby journalist and long-time director of the Short & Sweet theatre festival - there was a Smiths tragic bursting to get out. The melancholic love songs from singer Steven Morrissey so mirrored his own adolescent existence he was inspired to recreate it on stage in Half a Person: My Life as Told by the Smiths.
The show tells the story of William, the protagonist of the Smiths song William, it was Really Nothing, and the unrequited love he has for fellow Smiths tragic Salome, a femme fatale reminiscent of her mythical namesake.
"Salome is a perfect example of a Smithian love," Broun says. "In unrequited love for John the Baptist she got Herod to cut his head off."
In a twist, William discovers that his best friend and mentor, older writer Rick, is in love with him.
"I really tried to capture that Morrissey tone," Broun says. "There's a longing in Smiths songs for this unattainable love, this magical love that's going to transform you and change your life and make everything perfect and wonderful.
"That's a very romantic gesture, a very classical gesture. If you look through the ages it's there in Dante, Shakespeare, Keats. That's what Oscar Wilde wanted, that unattainable love for Bosie that eventually undid him, and it's the same for Morrissey. If you look at that last [Smiths] album and substitute the one wanting the love to be Morrissey and the one rejecting the love to be [guitarist] Johnny Marr, you can see what happened to the Smiths."
So the play reflects the band's history as well as Broun's own?
"Exactly, we wanted to capture the essence of the Smiths not only in story but in the dialogue and characters as well."
William's tale is told and sung by David Forster, accompanied by arrangements of 13 Smiths classics by former Big Country keyboardist Colin Berwick.
Forster is somewhat of a cabaret enfant terrible, having written and performed his own one-man show at 18. Now 23 - born only a year after the Smiths formed - Forster admits to not being a fan until Broun and director Robert Chuter approached him.
"They said, 'We've got this play and you'd be great for it.' I said, 'OK, who are the Smiths?' They were disgusted but I think they understood. They just handed me a bag with about four DVDs and seven books in it and said, 'Come back in two weeks.' "
"If the Smiths were ever writing and singing about someone it was William, this misunderstood young man who has a good heart but just doesn't seem to be able to put a foot right, and doesn't want to be lonely."
Surely Smiths fans revel in their loneliness?
"Morrissey does, and William as well, but I think there's more to that. You've got to want to revel in it for a reason and I think this play is a great way to explore that."
Smiths drummer Mike Joyce and bassist Andy Rourke gave their blessing to the project when cornered by Forster and Chuter in London last year - but no one has any illusions as to what Morrissey or Marr would make of it.
"Morrissey would probably puke," Broun says.
"If Morrissey came to see it," Forster says, "I would be absolutely terrified but I know he'd probably just get drunk and throw things and walk out halfway through."
Not that that would necessarily mean the patron saint of social alienation disapproved.
"There's a lot of humour in Morrissey," Broun says.
"It can be black and profound but there's always an ironic twist that stands it on its head and says, 'Don't get so serious because it just doesn't matter.' "