It takes a special amount of talent to be able to single-handedly hold the attention of an entire audience for over an hour. The sad truth is, in my experience, most actors simply cannot; and so I certainly had my doubts as I walked into the basement of the Traverse Theatre to watch Kieran Hurley’s one-man show Heads Up. I must now admit, I was wrong.
Heads Up follows the lives of four unconnected individuals in the hours leading up to the apocalypse: an angst-riddled teen, a financer-turned-preacher, a desperate stoner and a coke-hungry celebrity all bound together by this pivotal event yet held apart by their circumstances. Through his own exceptional writing, Hurley performs his monologue flawlessly with a quiet and well-deserved confidence. With all focus on him, there were no corners to be cut and it was clear that the sweat on his face came from sheer effort rather than the stage lights.
The technical aspects of this production are also worth mentioning: the set was a solitary desk and chair; and on the desk were arranged a series of small stage lights, a microphone, a candle and an audio touchpad (allowing the actor to control the sound cues). The lights were subtly differentiated in colour and strength and fluctuated between settings as Hurley seamlessly transitioned between the four easily-identifiable characters. Similarly, each character had their own series of distinct sounds: from the sultry and frantic track of the celebrity to the quieter runs of the teenager every note had a purpose and the fine control the actor had over them meant that he could stop each noise to the exact millisecond, making full of eerie silences as well as the programmed bank of audio files. The overall effect was an instant connection to the stories of those involved – the soundscapes and lighting became part of the character, and it was much easier to relate quickly.
Our sensory experiences are linked to the dialouge; a privilege we are not usually afforded in conventional dramatic performances, where we must judge a character based on what they say using our own moral indicator. However, as beneficial this clever technology was, I would argue that in places it became essential. Characters changed so rapidly at times that I struggled to keep up, and it was the light and sounds that reminded me of a previous location. In my opinion he would’ve been better slowing some scenes down (perhaps making use of the broken fourth-wall which made several well-timed appearances) and offering the audience some indulgence. It was an incredibly powerful piece of storytelling and I felt truly immersed in the action, even without the large sets and lighting used in conventional ‘theatre’.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Heads Up won The Scotsman 2016 Fringe First Award. In fact, I was so intrigued that I purchased the script after the performance only to learn that the monologue Hurley had meticulously memorised was no less that 63 pages. As much as I enjoyed it, plays like this only attract a particular audience – the fact that it originated as a Fringe show is evidence of this. Whilst I would recommend it to my circle of friends, it certainly wouldn’t be a family night out. Of course this is a critique on the industry rather than on Hurley, but I couldn’t help but be saddened by the empty seats in the auditorium. Either way, his passion and talent are inspiring and I urge those of you interested in the realm between storytelling, theatre and performance art to watch it while you can.
Young Perspective Guest Writer: Matthew Sedman
Image Source: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event-detail/1110/heads-up.aspx