EVERYONE’S handed a party hat as they arrive at Amy Lamé’s Unhappy Birthday party – and everyone puts it straight on, without a whimper.
Already I sense something interesting is afoot, and Lamé doesn’t disappoint. In the next hour she trashes herself up, down and sideways. This is Lamé as we’ve never seen her – with every hair out of place and her trademark immaculate maquillage smeared to the high heavens. This is what extreme fandom can do to a girl.
Unhappy Birthday looks at Lamé’s devotion to Morrissey, whose music she discovered as a New Jersey teenager, just one month before The Smiths imploded. It’s part performance art, part satire, a whole lot of party, complete with a crucial game of pass the parcel that keeps the show in motion.
“I had a lot of fun playing around with the genre,” she says “I wanted to try to create a show that would have mass appeal, but also have elements of performance art. Why should the two be mutually exclusive? I’m trying to carve out a little bit of a different niche, but also send up that very pretentious world of performance art.”
Pretentious certainly describes Morrissey, I venture. She whispers: “He’s so pretentious. But I love him for that. It’s all this come close – and let me push you away. This constant push pull is incredibly attractive and keeps people coming back to him.”
But isn’t he a hard man to love? Just this week, citing “blustering jingoism”, he compared the 2012 Olympics to those held in Germany in 1939, asking, “Has England ever been quite so foul with patriotism?”
“I see it like being in a relationship. When you’re at home you totally love and adore them, but then you go down to the pub and they say something really embarrassing. The love doesn’t diminish, but you’re a bit wary about going out in public with them sometimes.
“When we were developing the show I contacted Scottee, my director, and said, ‘Morrissey is trending on Twitter. Either he’s dead, or he said something really f***ing stupid.’ In a way, the stupider he is, the more material it gives me. I hope it comes across that I’m not having the wool pulled over my eyes. Morrissey is human. He acts like a weirdo alien sometimes, but he’s human, he’s fallible.
“I’ve never met him, except for once, in a record store [getting a CD autographed] when he asked me to leave the room. That’s a totally true story. And I still love him. I’m a mug, right?”
No giddy teenager, Lamé’s written a show that explores a wealth of serious issues, including body image and the sense of otherness she felt growing up – which is what she, and every other Morrissey fan, responds to when hearing his lyrics.
“He’s a wordsmith, so if you’re bookish you get it. If you’re in the library instead of out on the football pitch, it’s immediately saying something to you. The references to fatties and wafting around cemeteries instead of doing something normal teenagers are meant to do… as well as the kind of every day kitchen sinkness, it speaks to the banality of everyday life.”
Though her audiences cohere, singing, dancing, and intoning the Moz Blessing, at actual concerts, Lamé says, people give each other the hairy eyeball. No one wants to share him. Why?
“There is a thing with Morrissey fans – you go to a gig and it’s like, ‘How dare these other 9,999 people turn up for this?’ He has a very particular way of connecting with the individual.”
It’s hard not to wonder what he’s like at home, I suggest. For years the one fact I knew about him was his that he claimed he was celibate. “Well I doubt he’s celibate now,”
she laughs. “There’s a lot around gender that I find fascinating. Morrissey started out very waif-like, with beads, flowers, and very fey, girlish behaviour.
“Now, he’s turned into an ageing Irish bloke. He’s a bit of a bruiser. He looks great, but that girlishness is gone. In the 1980s, when people said, ‘What is your sexuality, who are you sleeping with?’ he would call himself the ‘fourth gender’. I don’t know who the third gender is, but it’s this idea that he’s the manifestation of the feminine and masculine, in one person, and that you don’t feel like you fit in either side. I’d be interesting to know whether he still feels that way.”
She may never get the chance to ask, though not for want of trying. “I did actually let Morrissey know that I was doing the show. If he chooses to acknowledge my letter, great, and if he doesn’t, well, he’s been made aware. If he wants to sue me, brilliant. He’s getting 3 per cent of all ticket sales for rights to use the music. Woo hoo! An extra fiver!”
• Unhappy Birthday, Assembly George Square, until 26 August. www.unhappybirthday.net
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