Kieran Hurley

Beats

08/05/19

It’s cold and it’s raining and we’re in two minds about going out tonight. We’re booked in for an Unlimited screening of a film we know nothing about and it is really miserable out there. On the other hand, we reason, what if the film turns out to be great? We’ll be mad we missed it, won’t we? So, after some deliberation, out into the raging elements we go and boy, are we glad we do!

Beats is set in 1994. The TV screens are awash with images of Tony Blair and scenes of violent civil unrest. Johnno (Cristian Ortega) lives with his mum, Alison (Laura Fraser), and his would-be stepdad, Robert (Brian Ferguson), a straight-laced police officer. Alison and Robert dream of moving away from the depressing estate in which they live to a starter home in a nicer neighbourhood. In the meantime, schoolboy Johnno has a thankless part-time job stacking shelves at the local supermarket, and spends his downtime hanging out with his best pal, Spanner (Lorn MacDonald). This does not sit well with Alison and Robert, who openly refer to Spanner as ‘scum.’ Spanner’s older brother, Fido (Neil Leiper), is a notorious drug dealer, and seems to get a kick out of bullying his younger sibling at every opportunity.

On a local radio station, D-Man (Ross Mann) keeps trumpeting an upcoming illegal rave (details to follow) and Spanner tries to persuade his friend to go along to it with him, so they can have one last fling together before Johnno heads off to his new home in the suburbs. But nicking a stash of money from Fido to enable them to finance the trip might not be their wisest move…

Beats manages to do the impossible, making me nostalgic for a music scene I have no personal experience of. Ortega and MacDonald enact a brilliant odd-couple partnership – the former all glum-faced desperation, the latter a grinning, gurning powerhouse. (We last saw MacDonald in the terrific Mouthpiece by Kieran Hurley, who also wrote this screenplay.) Brian Welsh directs with aplomb, and the stark black and white cinematography of Benjamin Kracun is an absolute joy to behold, building as it does to an extended rave sequence, where the loved-up, E-fuelled revellers dance wildly and the screen suddenly explodes into full colour. The effect is, quite simply, mesmerising.

If I have a minor niggle it’s simply that the sound levels of that pulsing, throbbing soundtrack are kept a little too polite. I keep anticipating a sudden push into full volume that never comes – but, well, I guess you can’t have everything.

Beats is a film about escape. All the characters, for their own particular reasons, are trying to outrun something that brings them down – poverty, violence, bullying, boredom… you name it. For one night, in a deserted warehouse off the M8, it can all be put aside and forgotten in a blaze of lights and music.

On our way home it’s still raining, but somehow we barely even notice it.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney

 

 

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Mouthpiece

 

06/12/18

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

When an author creates a character for a play, to whom does that character belong? The writer, yes? But what if the character is based on a living person – somebody who exists outside of the fiction? Does the author then have a responsibility to that person? And, if they change certain details of the character’s life, does that constitute a betrayal of trust?

It’s questions like this that permeate Kieran Hurley’s powerful and compelling play, Mouthpiece. As a creator of fiction myself, I find it particularly intriguing, though – judging by the intense silence in the Traverse Theatre on the evening I attend – I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

Libby (Neve McIntosh) is a struggling playwright, recently returned to her home city of Edinburgh. Once fêted as the ‘next big thing,’ she has lost her way in London and is back living with her mother, unsure of what to do next. Her unhappiness leads her up to Salisbury Crags, where, fuelled by liquor, she rashly decides to fling herself from the heights and be done with it. But she’s been observed by disaffected teenager, Declan (Lorn Macdonald), who pulls her back from the edge. Declan too is unhappy, angry with his brutish stepfather’s treatment of his mother and of the infant daughter that Declan dotes on. He has come up to the Crags to work on one of his surreal drawings, undisturbed. The last thing he needs is this kind of interruption.

Fascinated by the boy, Libby seeks him out the following day, asking if he’ll meet up with her again, ‘just to talk.’ Already, her writer’s instincts have kicked in and she is beginning to plan a new project, one in which Declan will figure prominently.

Powered by searing performances from Macintosh and Macdonald, and simply staged within a skewed rectangular frame (which seems to perfectly showcase the ‘head-movie’ evolving in Libby’s mind), Mouthpiece occasionally breaks aside from the action for Libby to deliver short lectures on how successful plays are put together – and we start to notice how the writer changes those elements of Declan’s life that don’t quite fit with her plans. Even the parts lifted directly from reality must be reshaped, restructured, the jagged edges smoothed. This is how fiction is created and, it’s clear, these observations have been arrived at through personal experience.

Hurley’s ingenious circular narrative eventually brings Libby and Declan head-to-head in a brilliant fourth-wall breaking climax. As Declan sneeringly observes, it’s ‘all really meta.’

And, you know what? It is. And it’s wonderful to behold.

By this point I am absolutely riveted by what’s unfolding in front of me, barely daring to draw breath, in case I miss a word. Hurley has created something very special here, something that deserves to reach the widest possible audience.

It’s quite simply one of the best new plays I’ve seen in quite a while. Should you go and see it? Yes, I really think you should.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Lyceum Variety Night 3

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04/06/17

Lyceum, Edinburgh

Flint and Pitch’s Variety Nights are fast becoming a thing of legend. Hosts Jenny Lindsay and Sian Bevan are as engaging and irreverent as ever, setting the tone for another fun-filled evening in their company.

Tonight’s proceedings kick off with a song from Maud the Moth, an interesting jazz-classical-fusion band built around the distinctive vocal stylings of Amaya Lopez-Carromero, featuring keyboards, drums, violins and, on the opening number, Queen Maud, electric guitar. It makes for a haunting start and I’m already looking forward to hearing more from them later.

Up next is Kieran Hurley, a storyteller whose schtick, he tells us, doesn’t really lend itself to ten-minute pieces, shorn of context. Still, he manages to contextualise tonight’s reading with wit and brevity, and it’s a real treat: an excerpt from his 2013 play, Beats. Two intertwining monologues tell us the story of an illegal rave – and we’re hanging on to his every word.

Audrey Tait and Michelle Lowe are The Miss’s, a Scottish singing/songwriting duo with a compelling set tonight. Tait’s plaintive voice is the perfect foil for Lowe’s more gutsy vocals, and they absolutely take my breath away. I love these two and could listen all night.

But it’s a variety night, so of course we are moved swiftly on. And it’s fine, because Caroline Bird’s performance poetry is a delight; in fact, she’s our favourite act of the evening. Her diffident, unshowy persona allows her poems to shine – and shine they do. They’re as charming as she is, illuminating dark truths about love, life and mental illness with cheerfulness and compassion. We’ll certainly be seeking out more of her work.

Jack Webb is the first dancer/choreographer to grace the Lyceum Variety Night’s stage, and this is certainly a very striking piece. Let’s be honest, interpretive dance isn’t an area we know much about, and we’re not sure we fully understand all this performance wants to say, but it is nevertheless clearly a corporal feat, all precision and control, conveying pain and a heightened sense of physicality.

It’s safe to say that Mairi Campbell is unique – she plays the viola and sings which is a pretty unusual combination, but she makes it work really effectively. She gives us a brace of memorable folk-tinged songs, the last one involving us all singing along on the chorus, and it’s evident why she won the Instrumentalist of the Year award in 2016.

Kathleen Jamie is a poet in the most traditional sense. She offers us a collection of lyrical pieces based around the beauty of the Scottish landscape and her childhood memories. The one that covers stamp collecting is a particular delight (and that’s not a line you get to say very often). Weirdly, despite winning a whole plethora of awards since her first in 1981, she doesn’t come across as the most confident of performers – but there’s no doubting the quality of her work.

It’s left to Maud the Moth to come on and finish off the night with three more of their excellent songs and highly original songs, before we head back to (as Jenny and Sian point out) the harsh reality of the world. An excellent night then and we only have one minor quibble – why have we still not managed to win the raffle?

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield and Philip Caveney