One of the undisputed successes of the GM Fringe was the debut of Thorn. Tim Keogh's play was a heartfelt tale inspired by the adolescent life of Morrissey. Thorn skilfully gave life to a 'sixteen clumsy and shy' Steven Patrick Morrissey. This month the play returns to the Kings Arms for another well-deserved outing with the original cast.
The interest in The Smiths and their connection to the region is something that continues to grow. So, it came as no surprise that a piece on the front-man's early years generated such interest. It was a 'hand in glove' fit, and both of the nights at the Fringe sold out immediately.
Having interviewed Tim in the lead up to the play's opening night, I felt pretty certain that we were safe hands*. His replies were witty and often came in the form of Morrissey lyrics and oblique Smiths references. It seemed that Thorn was always going to be something of an ode to work of Morrissey.
When I arrived to watch Thorn in August, I found the Kings Arms packed to rafters. Outside of the main theatre a queue had gathered on the off chance of extra seating and spare tickets. Luckily, many of the crowd were accommodated, but this slight delay seemed to add a nervous energy and a tangible air of expectancy.
The play opens with young Steven and his sister Jackie watching an iconic David Bowie appearance on TV. Daniel Cassidy (Morrissey) instantly reassures in the role with charm and an exposed likability. While a youthful Morrissey is engrossed by the unusual persona and ambiguous sexuality of Bowie's act, the warm reception is not shared by all. The seminal Bowie appearance caused concern and anger in many 1970s households. This division between the creative and sensitive lead character and the bullish males that surround is a major facet of the play.
Thorn is at its very best when this contrast is at its most evident; whether with misogynistic school boys, ignorant teachers or aggressive National Front members. The scenes that feature Morrissey and his father Peter (Adam Waddington) have poignancy and crackle with discomfort.
I asked local actor, Adam, why Thorn is such a success... "The best thing about Thorn apart from the acting and directing, of course, is how well the characters are drawn and the relationships which emerge between them" he said "This gives a sense of gritty reality to the characters and really highlights the struggles that each of them is going through. There are also some great comedy moments which help to punctuate the more serious and dramatic ones."
Adam plays the old-fashioned Irish labourer with a menace that rarely subsides. The juxtaposition of the no-nonsense, alpha-male against his 'gentle and kind' offspring helps to create an awkward and tense atmosphere. Adam describes his role as, "a chauvinistic individual, who struggles to understand the more liberal views of his wife and children. The only way he knows how to respond to his son's creativity and individualism is through bigotry and aggression, which ultimately leads to his downfall."
The difficult relationship between Peter Morrissey and his son is well drawn. Daniel Cassidy captures the vulnerability brilliantly, while still managing the occasional knowing smirk.
Thorn features classic elements from the Smiths back-catalogue such as Morrissey's graveyard visits that feature in 'Cemetery Gates'. The play also has a smattering of Moz lyrics and references that serve as a pleasing allusion to the wordsmithery of Stretford's finest poet.
The character development works well as the lead man begins to show flashes of confidence and starts to unleash his legendary sharp tongue. I was intrigued to know if the play had changed the way Adam felt about Moz... "The play has given me an understanding of who the man is, where he came from and the formative years that helped to shape his career and success..."
Thorn rightly went on to win best newcomer at GM Fringe Awards. I asked writer Tim Keogh what the award meant, and he answered in a typically humble and almost Morrissey-esque manner... "I was thrilled to win the Fringe award. I went down in jeans and jumper just to watch! I stood at the back on my own. When they read my name out I couldn't believe it. I whipped off my jumper and floated down to the front!"
Whether a Morrissey obsessive or not, Thorn is a relatable tale of adolescence. Feel free to 'roar from the stalls and gurgle from the circle'...
Both dates have sold out again, but you can win a ticket to the performance on Tuesday 17th October. Simply answer this question:
What Morrissey song does this quote come from?
'I will roar from the stalls, I will gurgle from the circle'
Just email the answer to firstname.lastname@example.org by 12th October and the first correct entry out of the virtual hat will win the ticket
Words by Ian Leslie
*See previous Salford Star review of Thorn – click here
Update: 15th October: Thanks to everyone who entered - the winner is: Angela Quinn