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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