NEON, a new play by Patrick Swain,
Presented by Caged Bird Theatre
Touring production of Exeter, Nottingham and the Camden Fringe Festival 2018
Lawyer Sarah shares her flat with reclusive oddball John, who seems to think that he’s God. Sarah’s psychotherapist girlfriend Jude is counselling an American patient called Thomas, who hears voices and sees visions of a man in his flat. When Jude goes round to Sarah’s and comes face to face with John and his laurel-wreath necklace, connections are made that have far-reaching and sinister consequences.
The theme of ‘Neon’ is religion in both its universal and most personal sense. Which poses questions. Have social media and our obsession with Self replaced the need for faith in a higher power? Or has it made us more dependent on it? Humanity having made gods – false idols – of material things, which we invented ourselves, how do we control their effect on our minds and desires going forward?
This tight, funny, tragic, often devastating piece hinges on a line from ‘the Sound of Silence’, the 1964/65 song by Simon and Garfunkel from their debut album ‘Wednesday Morning, 3A.M.’: ‘And the people bowed and prayed/to the neon gods they made.’ The internet was a world away at that point. Most modern forms of communication were sci-fi fantasies. Did Paul Simon experience premonition, or was he just a kid strumming a guitar and chewing words on the bathroom floor? His reference to neon signs was a comment on advertising and consumerism rather than on social media that did not yet exist. But the message remains relevant. The more technological methods of interaction we create, the less capable we are of communicating with each other in real terms. The less inclined we are towards original thought. You get the picture.
The biblical references are subtle, but also loud and clear. During Jesus Christ’s ministry, ‘followers’ were not the faithful, but were idol-worshipers. What else are we today? Both faith and social media are about people finding their reality and truth in a non-physical dimension. The thought of ‘God’ liaising via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogging in order to preserve and perpetuate faith might seem absurd. Until Swain, inspired, follows the rabbit down the hole, that is, giving us ‘Jude’ and ‘Abraham’, summoning ghosts of Christmases past and yet to come, flinging unpalatable truths in our startled faces and challenging us on the most provocative tenet of all: that it doesn’t really matter what we believe, as long as we believe in something.
Prepare thy table. Belief is a construct, a cultural constant, this precocious young playwright knows. Behold, the shepherd and his sheep. Likewise after supper, he took the communion Capri-Suns.