Neon Neon - 2013World famous temple of doom, Berghain: The concept of techno got fed to the naggin’ tourists and wore its avant-garde dress off to its eclectic bones. THANK GOD. So what is next to come you ask? What interesting kind of genre will from now on tickle our auditory cortex? Probably the musical. And indeed: The audience is led into a dark-red lit room. Grim guards wear Soviet coats, Ushanka-hats and russian accent: ‘Did you bring something red? NO? Why not? You were instructed to.’ Video projection and acoustic interference create a distracting and constricting atmosphere on the ground floor of this former power plant. Books stacking everywhere, signs with paroles, fight soviet censorship, solidarity, a fence is no solution, destroy what destroys you. Only a bar is the anchor to western ease and consumerism.

Gruff Rhys and Boom Bip, together: NEON NEON, write biographical concept albums in the key of 80s pop. Their first release Stainless Style (2008) is about eccentric car-designer John DeLorean’s life story. Their second effort Praxis Makes Perfect is inspired by the life of Italian publisher and left-wing activist Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. From the beginning on it was developed as part of a theatrical performance. After some time of research, the album was recorded and playwright Tim Price wrote a dramatic text. Director Wils Wilson came into play and together with the National Theatre Wales a musical was staged.

The guards leading the audience to the first floor look dangerous. Some actors wear animal masks, some merge into the crowd, suddenly turning around, whispering: ‘There are spies all over the place’ as they disappear back into dark. Hence Berghain is located inside a stalinist architecture building, it fits the stage to perfect extent. 80s disco lighting is blended into an KGB office on multi leveled platforms. Every part of this huge and grey high hall is put-upon. The musicians come in and start into groove as loud as it may get. Its overwhelming how much happens on stage. The cast consists of about twenty people, not including the stage crew. Some wait amidst the audience, some climb ladders, some play their scenes on mobile stage elements moving through the crowd. And action: Gunshots are fired, dollar bills or tinfoil balloons rain down the too high to focus ceiling. The plot consists of loosely assembled, but iconographical parts of Feltrinellis life. Beginning with his political initiation as a child, fighting soviet censorship for the publication of Boris Pasternaks Doctor Zhivago, meeting Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, or being filmed by Andy Warhaol, until the play ends with Feltrinellis yet unresolved death. Between those scenes, NEON NEONs songs serve as complimentary thread and connecting element. Though the show is built around a strong theoretical concept, by no means it appears overly cerebral. As the definition determines: ‘It’s a light amusing play or film with songs and usually dancing’. Whereas typical musicals merge those theatrical elements into sugary kitsch, NEON NEON & National Theatre Wales separate most of these parts and perform an incredibly smart move: delegate the dancing to the audience.