Rather in the same way that the Charming Man whose presence pervades the party turned out to be pretty much the opposite, Amy Lamé’s “Unhappy Birthday” turns out to be a happy old birthday after all.
Our host (whom many will know from her radio work with Danny Baker) has invited us to her celebration, in which she looks back on her life so far – a life seemingly consumed by a Morrissey obsession. To a backing track of his greatest hits, the audience pass the parcel until the music stops whereupon, as one does, the “lucky winner” unwraps the parcel to see what’s inside. The gift becomes a prop for Ms Lamé to use as the jumping off point for a wild tale from her past: queuing up for a Morrissey personal appearance; meeting someone who knew someone who met someone who once looked after Morrissey’s sister’s cat; teenage snogging to Morrissey’s singing. There’s plenty of audience participation and plenty of stooges for Ms Lamé to use and abuse on stage, but nothing too embarrassing – Amy is too amiable for that.
It’s a raucous party – as all the best ones are – and there are plenty of laughs, but there’s also an undercurrent of darker times too. There’s a hint of fandom’s toppling into neurotic stalking with the sting of disappointment that comes from being let down by a hero; and more than a hint of the decidedly exomorphic Ms Lamé’s complicated relationship with food (with the decidedly endomorphic “Meat is Murder” Morrissey gazing on disapprovingly).
With Tom Sheehan’s beautiful black and white photographs of Morrissey displayed in the foyer, Unhappy Birthday (at Camden People’s Theatre until May 12 and on tour) is certainly a love letter to the ex-Smiths frontman, but it’s also a trip inside the head of a performer / writer who knows how to do the slapstick and how to do the pathos that give comedy its bite