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Edinburgh Fringe 2016

Heads Up

Kieran Hurley

Genre: Theatre

Venue: Summerhall


Low Down

Excellent new writing, storytelling and performance looking at how we live our lives and impending apocalypse


Right here, right now. It starts with a breath, Kieran Hurley tells us, as he breathes into the microphone. And it ends with a breath. And in between Kieran Hurley builds a picture of how we live and the careering descent towards apocalypse.

It’s impossible not to compare this with Chris Brett Bailey’s This is How We Die (though I had thought that defied comparison). Sitting alone at a small desk reading from piles of pages, Heads Up seems perilously close to This is How We Die. And yet… Heads Up ploughs a different and more fertile furrow from Chris Brett Bailey’s frenzied Lynchian dystopia. It is an alternative kinder, gentler and more hopeful vision of where we find ourselves and where we are going.

Living with climate change, inexorable migration and political upheaval, it feels at the very least that we are living on the cusp of major change, if not the apocalypse that Kieran Hurley investigates. Heads Up explores the disconnect between our daily lives and the larger political system. Hurley looks at how late capitalism, like a replacement for the comforts of religion, promises future gains while offering an increasing bleak present.

From the glass towers of capital to its coffee shop hydras, Hurley presents a range of characters having to deny their beliefs or hopes in order to interact with the world we live in on its rules of engagement. Mercy is a futures trader who no longer believes there is a future. Ash is a video games playing teenager whose erstwhile boyfriend has shared intimate pictures of her on the internet. Abdullah is a coffee shop employee on the minimum wage whose impulse is to ‘tell it like it is’ where company policy tells him he must be ‘people perfect’. Leon is a pop star who has become a caricature of his own brand, a cocaine-fuelled, meme embracing narcissist who manages to miss the birth of his own child. An entrancing storyteller, Hurley interweaves and develops their stories with compassion and skill.

The script aims directly at the audience by its use of the second person; the insistent ‘you’, on the one hand, is a powerful way of including and implicating us in the action, but, on the other, can itself disconnect us – we are not a futures trader or a coffee shop employee nor cannot be all at once. There are times when the insistent and repetitive ‘you’ risks confusing which character’s story is being voiced.

This is a beautifully paced piece of writing with long, winding intricate sentences that draw us into the story, and short staccato phrases that pull out the action. Hurley’s delivery is straightforward, committed and passionate. This is an impressive solo performance, born out of a collaborative process with Tom Searle, Alex Swift and AJ Taudevin as well as Michael John McCarthy whose soundtrack Hurley delivers.

As he lets out the last breath and blows out the single candle he lit at the beginning of the show, Hurley gives us a heads up to engage with what we want for this world right here, right now.