Mess it up and the Morrissey mafia will come down on you like a ton of bricks. The good news is that, in the hands of the Anonymous Society, the company best known for their 1999 tribute to Jacques Brel, Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr's songs have stayed largely intact. While the orchestration took some interesting liberties, drawing on everything from flamenco and opera to Forties show-tunes, the melodies were instantly recognisable, and given a new dimension by being sung in a series of different voices. Indeed the music was by far the best part of an otherwise bewildering and frequently toe-curling production.
Drama? There was plenty of that, though to what end who knows? The show opened with a distraught-looking man in a bunny suit sitting at a dinner table. At the other side of the stage was a woman bashing away on a typewriter. She was joined by a striking red-head dressed in a green satin cocktail dress, who then launched into "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me". By the end of the song I was none the wiser as to who these people were and what they meant to each other and when the curtain came down 90 minutes later I was still drawing a blank. With no dialogue and no discernible narrative, surely they could have thrown us a few clues. But no, for the most part the stage was cluttered with people, all apparently intent on their own silly dramas. Men took their clothes off and put them back on again while women lurked in corners touching up their make-up. In the first two numbers alone the man in the bunny suit was murdered twice. You hoped he'd take the hint and go away.
If there was any point to this - and I'm clutching at straws here - it was perhaps in harnessing Smiths themes and using them as a launch pad for some elaborate flights of fancy. The line "My only weakness is a listed crime" (from "Shoplifters Of The World Unite") was uttered by a man who we'd just seen with his head up a young woman's skirt; "I Started Something I Couldn't Finish" seemed to articulate a post-coital breakdown of communication.
Elsewhere however, amid the heightened melodrama, it was impossible to make sense of what we were seeing. "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" seemed to be The Smiths reworked by Marcel Marceau while "I Know It's Over" was Butlins karaoke.
According to the programme the Anonymous Society director Andrew Wale, on being asked what he thought of using Morrissey and Marr songs in a piece of musical theatre, remarked "That's the worst idea I've ever heard in my life." He wasn't wrong. Next time he should listen to his instincts.Reuse content