Review: Beats, Kieran Hurley

You can feel the bass rumbling beneath your feet, passing up your legs and reverberating in your chest. The lights are glaring, dazzling, mesmerically addictive. Swaying from the drink that pumps through your veins on some toxic night out, the urge to dance, to kiss your mates and laugh yourself hoarse is undeniable as the DJ spins the decks at dizzying speed. You’re free. You’re dancing. You’re alive. You’re feeling the beats. Kieran Hurley’s Beats, currently playing at the Bush Theatre as part of their RADAR season, evokes the drunken nights spent dancing that so many young people my age have experienced.

Entering the Bush Theatre to DJ Johnny Whoop mixing and lights spinning, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re entering a club, but with the seating still intact there’s no dancing required. A hit at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Beats is a monologue-cum-dance theatre piece performed by Hurley with live mixing of songs and video. Focusing on 15-year-old Johno, Hurley presents his story of adolescent rebellion against his worried mother as he goes with his friend Spanner to a rave in an unknown warehouse. Johno is given a pill and before he knows it he is dancing, and hugging his friend with the music pumping through his body. Meanwhile, policeman Robert is psyching himself up to do all he can to take out anyone in his path and to stop this illegal rave. With shield and baton in hand, Robert clashes with the young ravers, one of whom is Johno.

Weaving a tale of adolescent rebellion with political overtones (Beats tells of an imagined 1994 Criminal Justice Act that outlawed raves with music that produces “the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”) Hurley creates a thrilling and completely absorbing piece. At first the storytelling is gentle, but it soon collides with the music by Whoop, building to such a crescendo that you think you’ll have to cover your ears and pray for it to stop. Hurley’s ability to switch between characters as he tells his story is impressive, and whilst it may take a while to sink into the flow of the story and grasp each character, it’s not long before you’re laughing and sighing with each turn of the narrative.

Beats is very much the product of collaboration between Hurley, DJ Johnny Whoop and the lighting and projection work. Whilst Hurley sits behind a desk and narrates, fragmented projections play behind him, whilst to the right of him music is mixed by Whoop live and with impressive speed and agility. The bringing together of these elements fits perfectly with the pounding bass and party atmosphere that Hurley describes in his story.

It’s not all techno-fuelled drug taking though: beneath the explosion that is Beats are more subtle and universal themes of love and coming of age. There’s a ticking of a clock as it steadily moves through the morning hours with Johno’s mother waiting anxiously at home, desperate to know her son is okay. Even when she scalds him for his behaviour, Hurley’s description of a boy lost beneath his hoody staring out of the car window with bruised cheeks, with his mother looking in the rear view mirror is heartwarming. To twist this warmth into a piece so full of young adventure shows real maturity. Hurley’s Beats is a foot-tapping, heart-pumping piece of good theatre.

 Originally published on A Younger Theatre.