Monday, 22 July 2013

Waiting Man / Stevie Wonder’s Stern Warning @ Black Lion, 13.07.13

The standout pieces of Nowt Part Of Festival (on the second Saturday, at least) were two one-man shows written and performed by Josh Coates (Stevie Wonder’s Stern Warning) and Jon Coleman (Waiting Man). The pieces share a common theme of being alone, of dealing with a void, and of waiting for something – or someone – to come along.

Waiting Man is an existentialist musing littered with hope, potential, loss, action, and inaction. Told in the third person by a bard-like narrator, the audience is not quite sure whether the story being told is true or not. However, the delivery, the investment in everything being said, and the incredibly effective and deceptive simplicity of the storytelling is so compelling that by the end we are visualising the trajectory of a character who never actually appears onstage, and with devastating results. This is a desperately cynical and yet strangely life-affirming piece of theatre which can lead the audience to think about the path that life could potentially take. On a stage covered with incomplete crossword puzzles, origami birds, clocks, empty food wrappers, and even juggling balls, the Waiting Man waits so that we don’t have to.

By contrast, Stevie Wonder’s Stern Warning is an immediate, first-person monologue depicting a man slowly unravelling whilst trying to hold together a comeback gig – a comeback gig where he is the only member who has turned up. Armed with a ukulele and a suitcase full of enthusiasm, Josh attempts to maintain a smile as he continues through the performance, making every effort to keep the audience buoyed up and happy as the dream of a reunion begins to fade and the realisation sets in that the end has actually already happened. As with Waiting Man, it is the immediate rapport with the audience, the eye-contact, the informality of the event and the complete ease with which Coates delivers the performance which enables the audience to relax and enjoy the ride. We wanted him to succeed, to get through it, to enjoy the gig, and to take us with him on his musical journey. The song ‘Macbeth’ was a wonderful opener, and it would have been great to have heard some more of the talent for lyric writing that this man obviously has.

Both Coates and Coleman made great use of the space, of the audience, of time, silence and sound. We could trust these guys to tell us their stories with great style, emotional intelligence, and honesty. They are definitely ones to watch for in the future.

Words: Claire Dean.

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