Heads Up

HOME, Manchester.

19 May 2017.

Kieran Hurley’s one man show is an incredible rallying cry foretelling the end of the word.

Its seeming simplicity hides a complex narrative and a compelling vision.

A big table, laden with lights and a control panel. A chair. He takes a seat and puts a match to a candle as the lights dim. We are told it’s a story about him, about us and about the end of the world. We know it begins with a breath and will end with a breath. He’s wearing a suit but his feet are bare, making contact with the ground.

Four spot lights on the table are focused on him and create four subtle shadowy figures on the wall behind – four ghosts, four outlines, four stories. We hear of Mercy, Abdullah, Leon and Ash. A financial trader, a dope-addled barista, a self-absorbed pop star and an introspective teenager – aged unlucky 13.

The four people stare listlessly at screens – tv, games, computers and the internet. They are scrutinised by mystery shoppers, humiliated by cyber bullies and seek solace in drugs and alcohol. Skipping breakfast because they have no money or depriving themselves of food as ‘hunger improves performance’. They are lonely, lost and under pressure. But there is something else. Walls close in, there’s a strange smell, an unusual light and a buzzing sound. Mercy is a trader in futures and she sees something coming – a vision of the end of the world. In vain, she tries to warn people.

It’s an overwhelming piece of story-telling, building in intensity. Hurley creates it all with just his voice, light and sound. He punches at the buttons on his control panel to soundtrack the words with a compilation of manic muzak. When the world ends it is signalled by an exhausting aural assault on our senses.

There is a prevailing feeling of disconnection. Hurley maintains a distance from the stories. At first glance he is reading from a script or even witness statements – enacting the experiences of others. But he is actually speaking to them or us. You watch, you walk, you sit – he says. You, you, you. At one point he flashes a glaring spotlight on the audience and speaks of people who aren’t Mercy, Ash, Abdullah or Leon. In those fragments ‘you’ are on a train, looking at a screen, waiting for a bus, drinking coffee. They are mundane moments, everyday, familiar but also accompanied by feelings of pressure, compromise and discomfort. They are our lives. The focus shifts from him, to them, to us.

It’s not entirely clear who Hurley is – a judge, prosecutor, prophet or fortune-teller? Whoever he is, ultimately his words are aimed at us – we don’t have to live like this, things can change and if they don’t the outcome may not be good. It’s telling that as the world ends in this imagined future, after the initial panic and violence, people seek a quiet comfort in each other and the natural world around them.

It’s a highly accomplished piece of theatre-making – cleverly constructed and breathlessly delivered, with a message that rings out loud and clear. We’ve had the heads up – the future is in our hands now.

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