Pros: A very funny show and not a razor blade in sight (well maybe one)..!
Cons: This show is sharing the same set with another show that is running concurrently. Personally, that didn’t bother me. It was assimilated easily enough and if I didn’t know, I would probably have been none the wiser.
Anybody who grew up with The Face magazine and Top of the Pops on Thursday night needs no introduction to Salford’s most famous sons. This show in various incarnations has been around for a number of years.
Twenty-something William spends most of his free time with best friend Rick and through his tutelage, learns to appreciate Morrissey’s repertoire and other songs from ‘the vinyl years’. However, the arrival of taciturn Salome in William’s life engenders long-term repercussions for all.
Playing the part of William, the central character, is Joe Presley. With a surname like that, you would expect him to have a decent quiff and hold a tune(!), and thankfully he doesn’t disappoint. Like many one-man shows, Presley plays a number of parts, and jumps between the various dialects of London as well as a Mancunian drawl. To some degree, William is the personification of the angst and attitude of The Smiths’ songs. Like many protagonists, he faces a life-changing event and at the beginning of the play, Half A Person cleverly starts with an unusual cliffhanger moment that holds an air of danger.
Half A Person is a curious thing in that it is not strictly a musical, a tribute show or straight drama, but something that has aspects of all these things. When Presley sings excerpts of Smiths songs, it doesn’t feel forced, incongruous or contrived, but rather an extension of William’s obsession with the band. Humour punctuates a large proportion of the show, but in the last act, mirth gives way to pathos as Rick’s illness precipitates a moment of truth and the audience is left to decide what happened afterwards.
I’ve heard that during its inception, this show was performed initially in Australia, before being Anglicised for its latest nationwide tour. Frankly I can’t imagine how a country known for its fine weather would have found resonance with lyrics such as: The rain falls hard on a humdrum town/This town has dragged you down. The show via its countless cultural references felt very ‘British’ through and through.
So would non-Smiths fans enjoy the show? I’m not a hardcore Smiths fan and I certainly don’t know their back catalogue inside out. Like most people, I knew the obvious hits and enjoyed hearing them. Even though the subject of The Smiths is the framing device for the play, the real story is the perennial boy meets girl, plus significant others. What made the show for me was the delivery of the lines by Presley, whose William persona had me in hysterics with his acerbic wit. The music and cultural references were a bonus – and I dare say it would be the same for most people who go to see it.
It could be argued that the play isn’t original or doesn’t have anything ‘deep and meaningful’ to comment on. What I would say is that is what Half A Person does, it does well. Yes, there are other shows out there based on bands of yesteryear and yes, it is another one-man show, but it is very entertaining from beginning to end. Frankly, if you don’t find anything to like about Half A Person, you must be more miserable than Morrissey!
Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now? Not on this occasion!
NB: The play is only performed on Sundays and Mondays for the next three weeks (see dates below), but it is certainly worth making the effort to see.
Author: Alex Broun
Director: Donald Pulford
Producer: Cross Cut
Music Re-creation: Simon Polinski and Colin Berwick
Box Office: 0207 478 0160
Booking Until: 16th Feb 2014