By Kieran Hurley
Thursday 22nd February, York Theatre Royal
There’s always a moment of hesitation for me before going to watch a one man/woman show. Can just one person hold a room for an hour? Can just one person provide enough variety to keep me engaged? And every time I’ve come out of a one person show, I’ve left assured that the answer to those questions is, resoundingly, yes. Kieran Hurley’s Heads Up was no different.
With only a table, a candle and two soundboards in front of him, Hurley tells the story of the moments preceding the end of the world from the perspective of four different characters; Mercy, a highly-strung office worker with a knack for predicting futures; Ash, a 12-year-old girl hiding from the fallout of her ex sending private pictures of her around the school; Leon, a narcissistic, coke-snorting pop star; and Abdullah, a shift-worker coping with his place as a reluctant cog-in-the-capitalist-machine with spliffs and painkillers.
The play is very much an exercise in story-telling as opposed to a typically acted-out piece – which is not to say it is lacking in atmosphere or drama. Hurley sits for most of the production, with two front lights silhouetting his torso dramatically in the background and the soundboard providing Michael John McCarthy’s jarring, starkly atmospheric, soundscape. He brings each character to life with subtle but distinct changes to voice, diction and physicality, his lilting Scottish accent switching from comforting to vulnerable to deranged with each change in character and setting.
The script is a tour de force of storytelling which is truly given an opportunity to shine in this production, the deftness of Hurley’s writing spinning a tale that is engaging and darkly funny in equal measure. Punctuated with gripping dramatic moments that shake you awake and lift it from a theatrical reading to a piece of real drama, the show confronts us with questions about our place in the world and the nature of the world as we know it. It’s an examination of human connection (or our lack thereof), and where our current state of disengagement and self-destruction might lead us.
I’m certainly not the first to say it – Head’s Up won a Scotsman Fringe First award at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe and Hurley has been getting some pretty stellar praise for a few years now – but this is a show that stands out from the crowd for both its format and content, and Hurley is certainly a talent to watch.
Summary: A blistering but lyrical monologue that will have you on the edge of your seat and leaving the theatre with a pervasive feeling of existential dread – in the very best way.