Dublin Fringe Festival 2017: NEON Western
Cowboys and Angels
The clever pre-show preamble for “NEON Western” sees a man with a harmonica, and a tracksuit, being pursued by a sheriff down a series of stairwells. With the help of his harmonica, and one well timed pigeon on the day, a sense of fun and urgency is created as he weaves through the crowd in a game of hide and seek, taunting the sheriff that pursues him. Yet once inside the auditorium the fun firmly stops as “NEON Western” takes a darker turn, and not necessarily one for the better. As rave meets bar, meets theatre, meets western, “NEON Western” serves up a modest morality tale, one that shows sparks of inspiration, but one all too conventional in both its tale and the telling.
In the world of “NEON Western” the audience are invited to move about freely, but there’s nowhere really to go, and places you just can’t get to. Instead, you stand around The Soiled Dove Saloon as the action unfolds across a handful of close by spaces, or as the cast moves through the crowd. Conventionality looms large in this tale of cowboys and angels, where the angels are predictably all heartache and heartfelt, while the cowboys go dealing in sex, violence, and sexual violence. In what follows, a sheriff betrayed by his wife seeks revenge, but karma is a bitch and soon comes calling, impacting on all those around him. In between there’s music, lights, fist fights and dancing, some silhouetted sex and some darn good cocktails.
With its pretty decent soundtrack, “NEON Western” might dress itself up in the sounds and colours of a thumping rave rainbow, but it has little of the raves sense of energy, and even less of its sense of fun. Instead it all feels like a high school disco, with everyone either posing like wallflowers, or else dancing very badly. While “NEON Western” certainly crafts some visually striking images on occasion, all too often the images are too obvious, too conventional, and less inventive or engaging than they might have been, as well taking an awful long time to take up the pose, and far too long holding it. A situation not helped by less than stellar text and lyrics. While Sarah Jane Shiels lighting design is wonderfully executed, what it’s lighting is not always as visually engaging as it might have been, even if cast show tremendous synchronicity in their engagement with light and sound.
Deconstructing, reconstructing, and reimagining the western genre has yielded some inventive, innovative and iconic works over the decades. In comparison, “NEON Western” leans too safely on the side of caution. Neither a western, nor a rave, “NEON Western” can feel like a David Lynch wannabe, showing a little of the style, but less of the substance. As it stands “NEON Western” feels like a show for a concept album, which, while inventive in places, is just not inventive enough. Which is a shame, for when “NEON Western” clicks, it crafts some truly beautiful moments.
“NEON Western” by Conflicted Theatre and Peter Power runs at The Samuel Beckett Theatre as part of The Dublin Fringe Festival 2017 until September 17th