REVIEW: Kieran Hurley: Heads Up @ Northern Stage, Newcastle

Posted on April 28th 2017 by Whats on Northeast

Words: Antonia Cundy for Cuckoo Review

A man walks on stage. He is barefoot, but dressed in a smart suit. He lights a candle, and sits down in front of a wooden table littered with electronic equipment. He is going to tell us a story, he says. It’s a story about the end of the world.

And from then on, we are flung into Kieran Hurley’s theatrical apocalypse, Heads Up. It soon becomes apparent that the electrical jamboree which litters the desktop is going to be a crucial part of the play, as – with an indrawn breath – the lighting and sound changes to a pulsing monotony as Kieran sets the scene. He takes on the character of Mercy, a financial yuppie ensconced behind his desk in the city. As Mercy, Kieran articulates the horrid reality of the cousinly bond between other people’s crises and financial profit in The City, where you don’t eat lunch at work because hunger would be seen as a weakness. It’s funny, because it is altogether too true.

Then there’s a flash and a change of sound, to a smashing chart hit, as Kieran seamlessly adopts the role of Ash, a young girl verging on puberty who is angrily infatuated with Matthew, the guy at school who keeps on ‘trying to touch her fanny.’ An electric synth chimes in as Ash designs her perfect Sim City on her laptop, then decides to destroy the whole place with ‘The Godzilla Thing’ option.

This moment, and future enactments of Ash in the play are particularly impressive; as the gangly, masculine Kieran takes on the prepubescent persona of a teenage girl as though it were a second skin. Into an intimate narrative of Ash’s love life, Kieran slips a thought-provoking concept that Facebook – with the removal of the physical immediacy of people’s faces – reduces our inability to empathise, as we no longer register the physical manifestation of people’s emotional reaction to the words which we direct towards them. It’s a definite skill to slip such heavyweight information and topical debates into the monologue of a thirteen-year-old girl, and to do so seamlessly.

Ash is not the only character Kieran takes on. He flits between Ash, Mercy, Abdullah (a young sales assistant about to lose the job which barely keeps him financially afloat), and Leon. All four of the characters are instantly recognisable as a little part of ourselves, or a part of who we could so easily be. As each character reaches their own personal crisis, so too does their physical world. Apocalyptic destruction is about to hit with a crash and bang, and the four characters’ reactions to the event shed an illuminated moment of humanity on the idea. Ash holds Matthew’s hand, even though ‘he’s a right cock’. Mercy confesses his life story to a stripper, insisting to her that ‘this isn’t the kind of place he normally goes.’

Heads Up is a call to action for the young generation: to do something about our inanimate, inhuman existence before it’s too late. To recognise that the people around us are all humans like ourselves, and worthy of the title. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny, and incredibly smart. Kieran gives a performance for an hour that doesn’t let up at a single instant. He doesn’t slip a single word over the entire space of time; each word is delivered with perfect diction and an impressive embodiment of each character. Some scenes get a little tired towards the end, as we feel that the damnation of our soulless society is slightly over-egged. But it comes off with aplomb either way, and is a call to action well-needed and expertly dramatized. It’s a one-man show which encapsulates a generation.

This review originally appeared on Cuckoo Review, a site dedicating to developing the skills of young writers in partnership with venues across the North East. For more reviews from young writers, visit the Cuckoo Review website.

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