There is a lot packed into ‘This Charming Man’, a bulging hour of nostalgia, self-reflection, and playful recontextualising of some problematic pop-cultural figures. Sian Davies second hour might try to do too a little too much, but this ambitiously-structured oral bildungsroman is a fast, exuberant, and completely endearing sophomore show.
Davies opens with some of the ‘compliments’ she’s received previously, comparing her to other (male) Northern comics (formula: Male Comedian x Butch Lesbian Signifier = Sian Davies) proving, aptly for a show that dwells frequently in the 90s, that Lee and Herring‘s ‘Lazy Journalist Scum‘ bit still holds water (let’s be honest, we’ve all been guilty).
From there, Sian hurtles at breakneck speed through her youth, dealing with her early confusion over her gender identity, and a particular emphasis on her student years where she and her housemates would watch Gia, Bound, and If These Walls Could Talk 2 on a loop and snatch desperately at any sapphic content that sneaked its way into mainstream culture in those pre-internet days. Cue clips of Anna Friel and worryingly young faux-lesbian pop duo t.A.T.u., the latter providing one of the show’s best running gags.
Throughout, vintage footage of Morrissey is used to provide mordant commentary on Davies’ musings – full marks to Sian’s tech person given the volume of material used and the timing required – and she’s open about the impact that the Smiths frontman had on her, given how swiftly the former poster boy for fey sensitivity has fallen into a Brexity trough. In fact, the narrative of ‘This Charming Man’ adopts Morrissey’s own penchant for rifling through his own cultural obsessions for his densely allusive lyrics.
Especially good is an affectionate nod to the works Shelagh Delaney – ‘A Taste of Scummy’ – in which young Sian’s vociferous dialectic is punctured by one sentence from her gran. Okay, there’s a slightly self-indulgent Russian doll of meta-textual showboating going on given how frequently Morrissey himself quoted Delaney in his lyrics, but it’s evocatively performed and indicative of the way Davies refuses to rest on her laurels.
There is a slight sense that Sian herself hasn’t quite managed to piece it all together herself, or that she throws so much at the walls of her past that not all of sticks. ‘This Charming Man’ only really deals with the principal question of its publicity – ‘Where do you go when your role models let you down?’ – at the very end, and really only in passing; Morrissey himself a stop-gap towards Davies’ own self-actualisation. Still, far better for a show to be too ambitious when so much of it does work. And given how many hours have leant into tragedy and trauma recently (albeit brilliantly), it’s refreshing to have one that that’s so life-affirming and celebratory. The pleasure, the privilege was ours.
‘This Charming Man’ runs until Sun 27 Aug 2023 at Assembly George Square – The Box at 15:45