The title refers to the Morrissey song track of the same name recorded with The Smiths. It’s believed to have been prompted by a line from ‘The Collector’ by John Fowles, ‘Caliban is only half a person at the best of times.’ Fowles’ plot concerned the obsession of a dysfunctional young man, Clegg, with the woman of his dreams, Miranda Grey.
It’s easy to extrapolate a parallel with what Alex Broun, playwright, has drawn in this piece. In its parody of both Fowles and Morrissey it makes for a feisty, tongue in cheek entertainment. It is a tribute to the British rock idol Patrick Morrissey and the band ‘The Smiths’. Broun sees Morrissey as a modern day Wilde and no doubt ‘half a life’ is better than not having had one at all.
Not that ‘Willey’, performed with great appeal and energy by David Forster, is remotely similar to Clegg. Nor is the girl of his dreams another Grey although she appears at first to have pretensions in that direction. Willey is driven by a very much more basic urge. Where Fowles’s concern is cerebral, Broun’s William is driven, appropriately enough, by a preoccupation with the southern region of Homo erectus predating ‘sapiens, sapiens’.
After a less than auspicious beginning to the relationship on separate blankets in the Cemetry (‘Cemetry Gates’) William and ‘Salome’ discover a mutual obsession with The Smiths, its lead singer, Morrissey and guitarist, Johnny Marr. This opens the way to a ‘fuck-fest’ that finally reaches ninety six before the dream is shattered and William is forced to face recovery in Sydney.
That’s where we find William in the opening book-end image asking himself whether ‘all Sydney-sider’s are going to be so friendly’. He’s standing in the shower at the YMCA amidst the crap of the previous residents facing a burgeoning seven foot tall islander who has something tucked inside the yellow towel around his waist that looks like he’s up for a home run. Fortunately we don’t have to go there or indeed sit through the whole affair with ‘Salome’.
The real story is in the sub plot, that of a middle aged writer who himself is obsessed with William. When he eventually passes on there is a moment that might have been poignant had it not been suitably banal. By this time, however, Morrissey was starting to sound like he was repeating himself. Maybe he was.
It’s all done in high mock Morrissey, very writhing, very arch and very much exposed. It’s what has elsewhere been described as ‘eye candy’ and is very much Morrissey.
But burlesque isn’t quite the style to carry serious plot. If Minskey’s is anything to go by there shouldn’t be one except maybe as discovered in the pandemonium of trying to find it. The trick is to get the message across while everyone is still laughing. The subtleties of drama that found there way in at the end of ‘Half a Life’ simply had the effect of dampening down what had hitherto been a bit of a hoot. It was a ‘Caberet’ finale without the early warning signs.
While Forster certainly carries off the interpretation devised by Colin Berwick, musician, composer (should that be arranger) and producer, with a lot of style the musical items on the whole were rather repetitive in texture and delivery. Forster wasn’t assisted by the backing track, the sound delivery being quite distorted at times. It’s called ‘jangled pop’ but the term refers to the style not the quality of the sound. In straight mode Forster’s delivery and pace were exemplary.
The set was simple and raw, suitably grunge and very effective.
Director, Robert Chuter has contrived a very tight one man show with great tempo however Forster at times seemed in danger of meeting himself coming back as he kept circumnavigating the small space of the Newtown Theatre stage. There was an obvious lack of synchronicity between Forster and Lidia Kelly on lighting and the spatially defining light pools at times left him in the dark.
The lighting seemed unnecessarily complicated. How many ‘spaces’ can you keep track of in the space of twenty metres? The effect had to be achieved at the expense of more conventional flood lighting and the overheads for much of the time closed off Forster’s most captivating quality, his eyes, lost under the shadow of beetling brow.
Nevertheless they served to add a touch of opalescent brilliance to his shoulder blades. Possibly more candy.
The Smiths have indeed broken up and the price to get them back together has been raised from the $5million mentioned by William to $70 million. Obviously Broun and alter ego William aren’t alone in their devotion.
Fly-on-the-Wall together with New Mercury Theatre present
Half A Person: My Life As Told By The Smiths
by Alex Broun
Venue: Newtown Theatre | Cnr King & Bray Streets, Newtown South
Preview: Tuesday, 18 September
Season: Wednesday-Saturday, 19-22 September
Tuesday-Saturday, 25-29 September
Time: 9pm (also playing - Love & War @ 7pm)
Tickets: $28/23 conc. Preview 18 Sept $18
Bookings: MCA Ticketing 1300 306 776 or www.mca-tix.com