Saturday, 19 October 2013

Theatre review: Beats

In keeping with Soho Theatre's policy of scheduling as many shows at the same time as physically possible, Kieran Hurley's Beats has an off-putting start time of 9pm. The short run time means that in practice this would have seen me home earlier than some shows this week but still, a Saturday matinee seemed more appealing. At least the start time seems on-theme with the play itself, a monologue about rave culture, and particularly how it was affected by the 1994 Criminal Justice Act introduced by John Major's government, which gave police the power to break up any public gathering where people met and played "amplified music characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats" - effectively criminalising Techno.

Hurley writes, directs (with Julia Taudevin) and performs Beats, but it's not quite a one-man show as music is provided by onstage DJ Hushpuppy, and a large screen shows video projections by Jamie Wardop. These bells and whistles allow Hurley to keep his own performance simple as he tells the story of 15-year-old Johnno, nervously preparing for his first rave in 1994, while across town policeman Robert gets ready to raid it.


It is, perhaps, a bit too simple a staging - after a brief introduction, Hurley spends the entire play sitting behind a desk, telling the story into a microphone. As his twitchily expressive face tells every bit as much of the story as the words do I didn't find this a problem, but people in the back row might not have got quite as much from his performance.


It's a well-written piece though and endearingly performed with great enthusiasm for the subject matter. Although the characters are left with a certain bitterness by some of the story's events, Hurley avoids the temptation to crowbar in tragedy for an emotional finale. He's also very discreet with the story's underlying theme of each generation being demonised by the one before it, and how the previous Conservative government's policies are reflected in the current one. An entertaining evening of clubbing, without the headache the next morning.

Beats by Kieran Hurley is booking until the 26th of October at Soho Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 5 minutes straight through.

NB: There's lots of strobing lights but the loud music the theatre warns about isn't actually all that loud.

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