Warwick Arts Centre, Thursday 5th December, 2013
The rave scene of the 1990s did nothing for me; by then I was already a square and a fuddy-duddy and couldn’t tell the difference between house, garage or even garden shed, and so a play set during that era and milieu didn’t automatically appeal.
Kieran Hurley is the writer and performer, narrating and delivering monologues as all the characters in the story which tells of 15 year old Johno attending his first illegal rave with a friend. It is also the story of PC Dunlop, tooled up in riot gear and hopped up on adrenalin. Attitudes clash when police baton meets boy’s face.
The play makes something of rave culture understandable: the desire of hopeless, disaffected youth to escape the shittiness of their everyday existence, of losing oneself in a shared experience, of belonging, of celebrating collective humanity. But that’s all by-the-by. What the play is really about is Britain post 2011 riots and the ongoing erosion of civil liberties and the demonization of young people. On the day I saw it, the news was reporting ‘clashes’ of overly enthusiastic police with peaceful protestors.
As Hurley says at the beginning, with the easy delivery of a stand-up comedian (I was reminded of Daniel Sloss), he leaves it to us to fill in the gaps.
It’s a thoroughly captivating performance. There is continuous music from onstage DJ Hushpuppy (possibly a pseudonym) “mixing” at his “decks” or “gramophone” (I’m not completely sure of the argot) Visuals play on a screen, trippy, acid-coloured animations by Jamie Wardrop, and Adam Thayers’s lighting is constantly changing to the beat or to accentuate the action, with roaming spotlights and bright colours of the kind you might expect to find at such a ‘rave’ (or ‘discotheque’). For the most part, I was watching Hurley’s absorbing performance and neglected to look at the screen.
He sits at a desk with a lamp shining in his face, speaking into a microphone – there is a hint of interview room about it (although I’ve been to as many of those as I have raves) and yet it doesn’t feel at all like a static show. The hour passes very quickly thanks to Hurley’s captivating storytelling and impressive talents as both performer and playwright. (He also co-directs with Julia Taudevin and is evidently a theatrical force to be reckoned with).
Beats is a totally engaging, relevant piece and will stay in my memory long after its current tour is over.