Beats – The Old Market, Brighton

(For the Public Review)

It’s a big night for Johnno McCreadie. The rave beckons. As does a concoction of intoxicants.

When the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act sought to illegalise raves in the 1990s, many a young aspiring raver found a loophole. The Act outlawed any “public gatherings around amplified music characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats” (yes, seriously)… so, naturally, these party animals did their utmost to simply find the tracks that were… well… a bit all over the place. No repetitive beats, no police beats – well, that’s what they thought anyway.

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Beats is a coming-of-age story about a fifteen year old boy who is slowly but surely becoming disillusioned with the world. Primarily, we follow the tale of Johnno and his mates, but we’re also allowed a glimpse at his tormented mother, as well as various other characters whose paths cross with Johnno’s.

Writer and performer, Kieran Hurley, offers a captivating performance. Despite narrating the boy’s story in the third person, and sitting on a chair for most of the action, Hurley demands attention. A backdrop of trance-evoking video projections can’t even lure away one’s eyes from this guy. He has a striking stage presence and his energy levels are through the roof. In addition, Hurley’s writing talent manages to capture the transition from innocence into tainted adolescence – as well as every sordid and ecstatic aspect of the rave scene. The actor’s startlingly good grip on accents and impressive characterisation ensures that all the character changes, which are essential to the piece, are perfectly clear. Subsequently, one can follow the twists and turns of the story with ease.

Throughout the performance, a DJ mixes music live on stage, and the tracks are – in a word – “banging”. The beats seem to seep into the souls of those sitting and bopping in the aisles. Former and current ravers will be transported back in time to those all-nighters of glow-sticks and fluffy boots. Ah, those were the days.

The combination of music and video projections, by artist Jamie Wardrop, make the show what it is – essentially a brilliantly visceral experience. It can be a bit too intense and you may find yourself exhaling in a bid to tame your heartbeat, but the relentless beats, the hallucinogenic projections and the gritty content all fit together to create the perfect atmosphere, which allows the imagination into the world of Johnno, his pals, and the underworld. This unique blend of immersive storytelling is indisputably mesmerizing.

Hurley’s writing is cleverly understated and moving. However, the subject matter may not be easy to follow or connect with if you’re not familiar with the rave scene or if you don’t “dig” techno, but – for those who are at least a little familiar – Beatspromises to be an entrancing piece of theatre. The story, although well-written, is a little predicable but this doesn’t really matter because this show is more about the experience.

By the end of the 75 minutes, one does crave the rave.

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The Last Time

She was a dead weight to him. All he could see was brown hair as her body flailed and bounced from one side of the room to the other. He inhaled through gritted teeth while she stared open-mouthed at him as if he were a stranger. And although he could hear cries, screaming, sobs, gasps, words… nothing registered. It was only when she ran into the toilet to vomit that his demon was temporarily exorcised. Only then could he make sense of the scene. And it was only then, when his rage subsided, that he could hear one of the neighbours banging on the front door, voicing concern.

The next morning, she was a mess. Bruises on her neck, a swollen nose, puffy eyes, discoloured limbs. He said good morning and kissed her – her mouth was tainted with clotted blood. It was a metallic, mechanic kiss. She put on a polo neck and went to work. Later that day, she would gloat about the love bites she was hiding and her colleagues would laugh and find her endearing. She was a good liar.

It was a typical Andalusian summer when they met – sticky and soulless. They exchanged a couple of sentences. That was enough and something clicked. He felt her eyes burn into his; she knew him and he wanted her. They wanted each other. And there they were; walking hand in hand along the shore. With a couple of drinks in their systems, they were like a pair of kids. Play fighting, even then. They kissed and he whispered in her ear: “I can imagine waking up with you in the morning, every morning. And I can imagine making you breakfast and making love to you. I can imagine loving you.” He never did have much of a way with words.

From there, the love grew like a tumour. Predictably, chapters of her past were revealed. Things he didn’t like. Revealed accidentally. Gradually. The foundations were cracking. He knew it would tumble. It had happened before.

She was never really the same after the major ‘incident’. He didn’t realise at the time, but this free spirit had become a broken recluse. An inevitable shame gnawed away in the pit of his stomach. His father stared back at him in the mirror and the tattoo he had carved into his flesh in his teens stood out on his upper arm more than ever before; the Chinese symbol for ‘beast’. An eternal reminder – a relentless poke. He had become the monster he was so desperate to slay.

“Stick around until I break your nose. Stick around ‘til I smash your jaw in,” he had warned her.

“Do you want to hurt me again?” she mumbled through salty lips.

He shook his hung-low head and closed his eyes tightly so the tears wouldn’t escape. 

“Then don’t,” her doughy eyes pleaded.

“I can’t promise that,” he spat.

“You can’t promise not to hurt me?”

Silence.

“Promise, baby, please. Please promise not to hurt me again…”

She forced the promise out of him. And to be fair on him, he desperately wanted to keep it.

February. That was the penultimate ‘incident’. An argument about an ex of hers. He never would remember how the fight escalated – but as sure as his self-made hell would consume him, it spiralled until he felt her face collide with his fist.

And the last? Something stupid. Dinner, perhaps. Yes, it was the time she warmed up baked beans after he spent hours slaving away in the kitchen over a gourmet meal. He wasn’t impressed so he grabbed her by the neck and threw her onto the floor. The fan fell over, her laptop went flying, and he heard her whimper. Her hand was cut and her elbow stuck out at an odd angle. Face to the floor, she wept.

As her pain seeped into him, the previous ‘incidents’ resurfaced with vengeance – the first slap, the way she held onto him as he threw her around like a rag doll, how she crumpled on the floor, the force at which she hit the wall, the grace with which she slid down it, all the while begging him to let her go, the piercing screams, the knocking at the door, the fury with which he smashed his head into her nose, the gush of blood, the back hand slap, the full-force punch, the tremor of his hand as he gripped her hard around the neck, the wheezing as she struggled for breath, the time she was forced underneath his weight, they way he sprawled on top of her, holding her head before slamming it into the marble floor, the retching… and the silence.  The silence that drowned out the screaming.

In the various aftermaths, his reflection would stare back at him from the bottom of a glass of vodka. Down it went. Once again, he drank to forget. 

Terry Alderton: Season 4

(For the Public Review)

WARNING: contains strong language.

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Terry Alderton. Where to begin? The man is a hurricane. Condensing this comedian into a bite-sized chunk is as impossible as the realisation that one believed in the monkey war that was waging on stage. Ergo, not impossible. One has and one did.

The act opens with a little ditty and as Terry demands audience participation at the end of each verse (“She flew out of the window! What’s her name?!”), it soon transpires that this isn’t going to be a standard night out. Especially when the song ends with a torrent of profanities. (“What’s her name?! NO! F*CKING JUNE!!”). The audience may very well be in the hands of the mentally unhinged, but the sweet cascade of giggles softens the outbursts and Terry becomes strangely endearing.

For those new to Mr Alderton’s charms, it is terrifyingly easy to keep up with his bombardment of vocalised mind melts. Unfinished sentences ricochet all around while his microphone pounds away on various heads (that’s literally for those in the front row). A giant tennis ball (aka football – he left the giant tennis ball at a previous gig) looms disturbingly in the distance while the voices in Terry’s head battle it out. And there’s the odd somersault to boot.

Terry is the master of accents and characterisation. The act includes a sample of dialects from every corner of the globe, multiple sound effects, and every stereotype going – plus their extended family, the next-doors and the second cousins of the next-doors-but-one. The “don’t mess with me” wide boy, the campest gay in the village, the Devil, Eastender-Ricky’s protégé and Lee Evans all make an appearance.

Terry covers everything from dead squirrels to GILFs (like MILFs but with grandmothers) to monkeys with muskets between sporadic outbursts of song and barking fits. Yes, he barks. There’s also a drum and bass rave in his right kneecap.

Watching Terry is a bit like being repeatedly run over by a bus. A party bus.

Regardless of background, residency, race, orientation – at some point, Terry will say something that strikes a chord. Or chisels away at a nerve depending on one’s disposition. For instance, Essex is full of people who look like they’re broken and Norfolk is where all the backward people live. For Brightonians, there’s a quip about Dyke Road. And the scratch and sniff gag is as uncomfortable as it sounds.

It is surprisingly odd to find oneself falling in love with Terry’s feet, even though they’re gangster-esque by nature and revel in profanity. Judging by the audience response, the ‘shoulder stand/trainers take over’ is one of the highlights of the night, particularly when the right foot has a go at the left for doing “f*ck all” in the car.

In addition, Alderton shares many a story, including the time he found multiple sex toys (or “a f*cking warren”) in his wife’s closet and smothered Tobasco on them out of sheer belligerence. Then he re-enacts a recent finance-focused argument and his wife is represented by Terry’s left arm… naturally. Mr Alderton even treats the audience to the ending of the stage adaptation of Shawshank Redemption.

Song, dance, belly laughs, barking, Morgan Freeman…What more could one want in a comedy night?!