Battersea Arts Centre, London – until 1 April 2017
Taken a little time to get here but Kieran Hurley’s 2016 Edinburgh Fringe hit (part of their Made in Scotland showcase 2016) absolutely nails the zeitgeist of our times. With his nervy, urgent, hectic delivery, Hurley’s deeply dystopian take on our world today is a visceral and aural bombardment that is nonetheless told with amazing simplicity. Just Hurley, his words, and a sound-board before him, controlled by him – music score courtesy of Michael John McCarthy – via which he conjures the distress calls of four or five very different characters.
Hurley and his talented crew – director Julia Taudevin, Alex Swift and Michael John McCarthy – are all new to me. But all are already well seasoned. What is fascinating about Heads Up is not only its Cassandra like warning of our impending doom but its style of presentation, a kind of prose poem, a verbal stream-of-consciousness, sometimes hysterical befitting the extreme states in which his characters live and interpret their world, but also at the last, lyrical.
Do they all take their own lives, the high-flying financial exec working in `futures’ – Mercy who has seen the future (I think it’s a `he’) and it’s scaring the hell out of him; the `coked’ out, narcissistic music celeb rushing through the city, crashing his car, to get to the birth of his child; the teenager glued to his computer, the young girl heaving out her life on a cubicle floor, and Abdullah, `managed’ to within an inch of his life to be `people-perfect’ – `keep on smiling’, no matter what?
The answer lies perhaps not so much in their various denouements which are indeed touching and meaningful – grasp the moment in front of you, nurture that reality – but in the narratives to which each adheres, the attachments they make to the worlds around them.
`It can’t go on like this, it has to stop’, pleads Mercy whose prophetic tendencies have reached messianic proportions. He sees a new world must be born, that it can be different. He has seen the `flash’ as have others. But Mercy and Abdullah and even the appalling celeb reach a moment of quietus.
Abdullah looks into the eyes of the young man with whom he’s just had a brawl and shares – what? – a moment of brotherhood? And Mercy, in the park, at last smells the air, `fresh and clean.’ Then boom…
Hurley’s word pictures are extraordinary: powerful, headlong, especially when describing the component parts that go to make up a city. Thin, wiry, intense, he’s certainly a seer for our times.
Hugely impressive, total theatre, if scary.