Hurley’s Beats Oct09


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Hurley’s Beats

Beats by Kieran HurleyBeats is described as a coming-of-age story exploring rebellion, apathy and the irresistible power of gathered youth. With techno. Lots of techno. It tells the tale of Johnno McCreadie, a teenage living in a small suburban Scottish town at the time of the 1994 Criminal Justice Act – a new piece of legislation which effectively outlawed raves.

Growing up on a diet of dance music made me hungry to see this play – written and performed by award-winning Scottish playwright Kieran Hurley. Following two sell-out Edinburgh Festival runs Hurley is setting out with Beats on a national tour. I caught up with him to find out more.

What was the inspiration for Beats?
The initial spark of an idea was thinking about the Criminal Justice Act of 1994, which aimed to criminalise the whole free party culture. I suppose a lot of my work has been concerned with exploring what happens when people, particularly young people, collectively claim ownership over public space on their own terms. The free party movement was hedonistic, and not necessarily political, but the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act suggests that someone, somewhere, in power felt threatened enough by this subculture to legislate against it. So that just seemed like a really interesting to place to start.

What are some of the questions at the heart of the piece?
Really I think that’s for the audience to decide, but I’ll give it a go, as I see it. I’d say at its heart it is really a coming of age story that follows a teenage boy who goes to a rave for the first time at a point in his life when he’s trying to figure out his place in the world. There is a lot of inter-generational stuff, to do with growing up, with parenthood, and what we inherit from those before us. It’s set in small town post-industrial Scotland, a social landscape that’s just been radically altered by Thatcher and I suppose the play is asking questions about a human need for community in an increasingly individualistic and alienating society.

You play all the parts yourself – why did you chose to do the show as a monologue?
That’s interesting, I don’t really see it as playing all the parts in that sense. I mean that is essentially what I’m doing, but I spend the whole time sat at a desk with a lamp and a microphone so really I’m also always just me, in the role of storyteller at any given point. Why did I do it as a monologue? There’s not really one clear answer to that. If I wrote it as anything else it would be a completely different beast. The whole idea for the show revolved around telling a story, about creating a space to imagine something together, and the form was clear in my mind before the story had even properly been worked out.

“People have approached us about doing the show at music festivals or in nightclubs, but for me that would kill it stone dead.”

You’ve got a DJ live on stage in the show, how important is that to the piece?
I quite often work with musicians anyway, and because of it’s subject I always knew that Beats was going to have to have a real emphasis on music. I teamed up with a DJ called Johnny Whoop, who was centrally involved right from the start, before a word was written. The story and the setlist really evolved alongside each other, and the music is a real driving force in the show, much more than just a soundtrack, with the live performance of a DJ present onstage being a big part of that. The DJ for this tour is not Johnny but a guy called Hushpuppy who is another class act, and a real stalwart of the Glasgow scene. There is also a VJ, Jamie Wardrop, who performs the show with us from offstage. He’s designed the projected visuals that accompany the show and is mixing them live throughout. This, alongside the lighting design that Johnny put together, creates quite an intense ravey atmosphere at times. People have approached us about doing the show at music festivals or in nightclubs, but for me that would kill it stone dead. It’s much more interesting to take all that stuff into a context where they don’t traditionally belong, like a theatre, and explore what we can do with them there.

You’re a writer/performer, it’s not fair to ask you to chose which of those you prefer, but I’m going to anyway…
I don’t think they’re comparable enough to say I prefer one more than the other. The way things have worked out I’m much more likely to be found writing a piece for other people to perform than performing in someone else’s work, so I suppose that makes me a writer first and foremost. Almost all of the stuff I perform in I’ve written myself or made collaboratively with others. The tricky thing comes in trying to find the right balance. When you perform your own work you’re tied to that show while it goes out and tours. The writer in you wants to get on to the next project but your time and energy is spent on the road. Handing work over to the other performers is something I’m thinking about more and more. There’s no real reason Beats couldn’t be performed by someone else, for example. It would be a different show but that could be exciting and potentially quite cool.

Which writers/shows are you currently inspired by?
There are so many. Recently I’ve been particularly admiring the work of storytellers who are poets in a way that I’m really not, writer-performers like Kate Tempest and Inua Ellams. As a writer, I’m always inspired by David Greig’s work and I have an unfading admiration for Chris Goode. I’ve been really excited by recent work from Action Hero, Made In China, Rosana Cade – this list could go on for a little while. I’ve also been re-reading Sarah Kane recently, and only it’s only now I think I’m beginning to get to grips with the formal sophistication of what she was doing. So I’m feeling pretty inspired by that too.

How hopeful are you about theatre at the moment; are you seeing the effects of the cuts? What do young theatremakers (or any age, for that matter) need to be doing?
Well the first thing to say is that things are quite different in Scotland than they are in England, so I’m not really in any position to start doling out advice on what people need to be doing when I might not know as much about their situation as they themselves do. We’ve had a rough time of it north of the border too, and there is no doubt that you can see the negative effects of cuts and restructuring in all sorts of ways. But we’re also fortunate enough to have a Culture Minister in Scotland who actually appears to understand what art is, which is more than you can say about the vile charlatan currently occupying the equivalent post on a U.K. level. For all the trials and tribulations, there are lots of really great things happening in theatre in Scotland and indeed across the U.K, and lots of voices worth getting excited about. So there’s optimism in that.

BEATS by Kieran Hurley plays London’s Soho Theatre October 14-26, then touring. See for details.