Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Review: 'Rubber Ring' at the Pleasance Theatre, 1st November 2016

Coincidence is a funny thing. This week has randomly thrown up two plays that take their titles from songs by The Smiths: Rubber Ring and Still Ill. This is off to a great start before I've even stepped inside the theatre: Rubber Ring is my favourite Smiths song. Originally the B-Side of The Boy With the Thorn in His Side, it became familiar to most from Louder Than Bombs compilation and has only risen in stature over the years.

For my money these might be Morrissey's greatest lyrics. He grew up obsessed with The New York Dolls, David Bowie and Marc Bolan, and recognised that The Smiths had the same fierce emotional connection with their fans. Rubber Ring (named for both the flotation aid and the rubber centre of a record player) imagines their fans gradually outgrowing the band, adolescent wounds healing and discovering happiness. 

"But don't forget the songs that made you cry. And the songs that saved your life." Things will get better, isolation passes and who knows, maybe you'll meet someone who truly loves you. But Morrissey pleads with us not to forget him: "When you're dancing and laughing and finally living, hear my voice in your head and think of me kindly."

James McDermott's Rubber Ring shows us the woes of your typical modern Morrissey fan. This is Jimmy, trapped in suburban purgatory in Sheringham (he wastes no time describing it as the seaside town they forgot to bomb). Bullied at school, confined to a miserable bedroom bound existence at home and not sure whether he liked boys or girls (or either) - all Jimmy wants is to escape to London for a Morrissey gig.

He casts himself as the hero of his own story; and sets out from home with just a tenner in his pocket and 36% battery on his phone. He skips trains with the tried and tested method of hiding out in the toilets, each stop inching him ever further to the O2 where there's music and there's people and they're young and aliiiiiiive.

Damn, now he's got me doing it. McDermott peppers his monologue with Morrissey lyrics, constantly exclaiming things like "I haven't got a stitch to wear" or "Belligerent ghouls run Sheringham schools". His schoolmates are called Rourke and Joyce, he meets a woman called Bonnie Marr and suffers under a tyrannical PE teacher Ms Shankly. On top of that, McDermott bears a faint physical resemblance to the man himself; not only emulating that famous quiff (albeit bleached blonde) but also capturing Morrissey's caterpillar eyebrows and that archly insouciant stare.

He's also funny as hell. My barometer for something being funny is the amount of genuine laughs it gets from me (smiles don't count). Rubber Ring had me laughing so often I was usually still giggling from the last gag as the next hit. Aside from the absurd situations Jimmy finds himself in (awkwardly trapped in the flat of the horny, hairy and diabetic cockcraver1988 (aka 'Pudsey Bear')) or nervously pawing at a bored woman in an abandoned underpass. Not only that but there's some seriously clever wordplay sprinkled throughout; my favourite being the reducing of seduction to a series of women's gossip rags: "Hello!, OK!, Look, Closer, Heat, Now" (from memory).

McDermott successfully captures the bonds that form between Morrissey fans - a very broad social, economic and political community. God knows Morrissey doesn't make it easy to be a fan; whether he's writing absolutely terrible fiction, making racist remarks about Chinese people or just walking off stage mid-set (I was in that unhappy crowd, watching Jonathan Ross getting pelted with beer and small change was small comfort). But for all the times you read something about him and mutter "Fuck's sake Morrissey", he'll have always written the songs that he's written and made me feel a way no other songwriter ever has.

Rubber Ring captures the core of the Morrissey experience. The romance of the outsider, the loneliness of sexual confusion and the bonds that form in the most unlikely places. McDermott pins this down perfectly, filtering it through the prism of his dramatic alterego Jimmy. I've seen bigger, brasher and more expensive plays lately, but there's few things I've enjoyed more than Rubber Ring.


Rubber Ring is at the Pleasance Theatre until 6th November. Tickets here.

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