Review: BEATS, King’s Head Theatre

Ned Campbell impresses in this one-off (for now) performance of Kieran Hurley’s BEATS at the King’s Head Theatre

“Nobody can arrest your imagination”

As someone who was an innocent 13 when the Shamen’s ‘Ebeneezer Goode’ was released, I was a touch too young to grasp the full lyrical nuances of that song at the time – I just wanted a t-shirt with a smiley face on it…. For others though, it was emblematic of the burgeoning rave culture of the early 1990s, something John Major’s government responded to by passing the Criminal Justice Act of 1994 which essentially outlawed all raves.

Kieran Hurley’s BEATS is set just at that moment, following a skinny, shy, Scottish lad from Livingstone as he figures out how to get to his first, and possibly last, rave. Johnno McCreadie is pretty much your average teenager with a mother who worries about him being led astray by his mates and mates like Spanner who are doing just that. We also meet Robert, a police officer with his own strained parental relations. Inevitably, their paths cross.

Though there’s specificity in the story about this particular moment in British cultural history, Hurley has tapped into something much more universal here. Ideas of teenage rebellion and the generational divide is timeless but there’s something too about the power of mass gatherings and the need that some feel to control or even abolish them. Think of climate action protests or marches about the Middle East crisis, with the added prejudice often aimed at young people in these mass gatherings

So it’s a canny show for performer/director Ned Campbell to revive here, his easy charisma perfect for first settling us in with the wry prologue, then introducing us to Johnno and effortlessly populating his world with all of its supporting characters. Campbell clearly has an affinity for Hurley’s lyricism (has coming up ever sounded so glorious?), his stage presence highly magnetic. And fittingly for a show so entwined in the world of music, Tom Snell is also onstage as DJ Johnny, creating a pulsing live soundtrack which adds as much authenticity as it does atmosphere.

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