Review By Tessa Stickland
Oliver Coleman’s Neon is hard to review without spoiling. Not knowing much (either about his style or this specific performance) makes it really fun and compelling. Knowing doesn’t actually ruin it – because Coleman is a better writer and performer than that – but I think it’s more true to the intended experience to not know much.\
If you ever studied theatre (at high school or beyond), if you’re a performer or writer, or part of any of the arts that have an ‘intellectual’ and analytical side to them – then you’ll get a kick out of Neon.
I utterly loved this show, but I find it hard to talk about. Maybe because I’m intimidated by the style a little? Neon is being intellectual and pretentious, while also mocking those very things within theatre and comedy (and extrapolates out to the other arts, and life in general).
Because I liked this show so much, I’m afraid of misrepresenting it. I worry my words won’t do it justice. (That’s a compliment.)
It’s almost baffling to me that there can be a show so funny where the performer is literally yelling at the audience – angry at the audience – for most of the show.
If you aren’t expecting it, it becomes obvious soon enough that Coleman’s decorum is on purpose. It’s an act. It’s in character. But even knowing this, even when you’re sure it’s the case – there’s a little feeling that maybe it’s not an act. Maybe part of it is real.
Coleman did break character a very few times, which was a nice reprieve. When he broke, it was only brief. Like when a clown character looks out at the audience with a quickly hidden grin, or a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it wink and a glint in their eye.
But Coleman’s snaps out of character seemed like true breaks, rather than performative breaks. The clown ‘breaks’ on purpose, to let the audience know that they’re actually having fun.
I think we saw the real Coleman for a few seconds. Not a persona or purposefully crafted moment of false insight. But I could be wrong. The show is filled with so much purpose that this could be intentional.
There are similarities between Coleman’s performance and the ‘bouffon’ style of clowning. Bouffon clowning is an inversion of the traditional clown. Instead of the audience laughing at the clown, the clown laughs at and mocks the audience. The ‘bouffon’ is the bastard version of a clown.
This is usually harder to pull off, as there is greater risk of the audience being insulted or simply not getting it. But Coleman does it masterfully.
He keeps the audience on their toes – all the funnier because he (his character) does not want us to laugh. Forbidden laughter is all the more enticing.
Get out there and be enticed by Coleman and the wonderfully esoteric Neon!