views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Lion and Unicorn Theatre
6th August 2018


Publicity image for Neon

Photography provided by Caged Bird Theatre

Never mind, what if he was just a slob like one of us, just a stranger on the bus, what if God was that really annoying flatmate of yours? We've all had one. That guy, who we live with for reasons so old we can't quite remember. That really irksome fellow who never seems to do anything much apart from eat all our food. Just thinking about it brings back the rage. What if... what if God was that guy? Ugh, that guy. A truly sobering idea for someone like young professional Sarah (Siobhan McCauley) who lives with petulant, bearded man-child, John (James Murphy). For John to truly be a deity - the deity - that would change everything and probably not for the better.

John represents both a personal and professional challenge to therapist Jude (Olivia Denton). Personally, he's a very strange man who lives with her new girlfriend, and it's always nice to get to know who you're sharing a roof with. Professionally, he is a real enigma. Whilst Sarah might have given up trying to crack him a long time ago, Jude has always had more faith in people than that, and she wants to fix John if she can. Unlike Thomas (Patrick Swain), he isn't a referral who she feels honour-bound to help. He's just one giant question mark who has come out of nowhere.

Swain's plot explores the whopping big issues of identity and faith. It's hard to say more than that without giving too much away. Although his liberal use of biblical names in his script doesn't go unnoticed, he manages to keep us guessing as to the end, with a refreshingly original story, apparently sparked by a song lyric. Well, doesn't God move in mysterious ways? The lighting and sound design are integral to this production, with director Jasper Frost encircling the set with a garland of brightly coloured lights and creating an ethereal, clever soundscape. The props are kept as simple as possible in order to keep any clutter from distracting from the sharp, bold lines of Frost's lighting.

Although the show feels very energetic when we meet John and start to unravel his mystery, it does perhaps lose part of this momentum as Swain philosophically takes us down another path. Nonetheless, despite the extreme heat, ducking out of the theatre was never an option: we had to follow each new twist and turn and see Swain's conclusion. We generally refrain from commenting on temperatures, but the heatwave has now reached a critical point, and we would strongly suggest that company keep the back door open for at least part of the production to make it more comfortable for the audience and actors alike. It was thoroughly impressive that the actors maintained such excellent performances under the stage lighting which must have felt even more Sahara-like than usual.

We enjoy the different relationships that John has with everyone - he's thrust upon the people in his life, leading to interactions which wouldn't ordinarily have happened. There's a friendly animosity with housemate Sarah, a constantly shifting dynamic with Jude and an almost fatherly concern for Thomas. However, it is worth also highlighting the gentle, tenderness between fledgling couple Sarah and Jude - there are lots of little moments in which we witness that spark that they share, with Frost investing time in the finer detail of this play as well as the bigger picture.

With Neon being a carefully crafted production that showcases some bright ideas, Caged Bird Theatre aren't afraid to think big. A gripping, humorous and thought-provoking tale.

Neon opened on 6th August and runs until 8th August 2018 at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Kentish Town (Northern)

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