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Preview: Beats at Live Theatre, Newcastle

A play coming to Live Theatre explores the rave scene of the early nineties through the story of a 15-year-old boy

Niall Walker Beats is coming to Live Theatre on Nov 29 and 30, performed and written by Kieran Hurley
Beats is coming to Live Theatre on Nov 29 and 30, performed and written by Kieran Hurley

In 1994 Kieran Hurley was nine, so the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act - which effectively outlawed raves - didn’t have much of an impact.

Fifteen years later though, the up-and-coming Scottish writer was using it as a building block for a piece of theatre which became Beats, a production which graced a Live Theatre scratch night at the end of 2011 and returns in its award-winning fleshed-out form for a two-night stay, starting tomorrow.

Featuring a live on-stage soundtrack performed by DJ Hushpuppy and a multi-character turn from Kieran, the piece follows the interwoven stories of 15-year-old Johno McCreadie who his revved up for his first rave, his mother and a police officer.

Set against a desolate backdrop of post-industrial Scotland, the stories take place over a one-night journey in a world of state repression, chemical excess, teenage longing, police violence and communal euphoria.

“It’s really nice to bring it back now. The show isn’t just ready. It has matured and is very sure of itself... it’s all grown up,” says Kieran, before breaking off to politely ask the proprietor of the cafe he’s in to turn down the music. I can’t help thinking there’s an irony in there somewhere.

“I brought the show to Live because I needed to try out the work-in-progress with an audience who didn’t know me,” he says. “I had about 20 minutes of stuff which I read and played some music through my laptop. It went down well and that was a real boost for me to push on with it.”

The production was ready to go in April 2012 and went on to have a hastily-organised, but very successful run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It returned for another one this year and is now on a UK tour.

So, we know where the show is and where it’s going... but where did it come from?

“Anything comes from a whole constellation of ideas. But the start would certainly be thinking about the Criminal Just Act of 1994 and being particularly interested in that piece of cultural history and the artistic sub-culture of the rave scene,” says Kieran.

“At that time, I’d finished and was touring a piece called Hitch, which was an autobiographical monologue about travelling to an anti-capitalist protest in Italy,” he continues.

“I think with hindsight I can say my work was asking questions about what it might mean politically for young people to come together in the same space, whatever the context... that search for community in what is a quite an individualistic world. The Criminal Justice Act seemed like an interesting jumping off point for a conversation about that.

“The rave party movement in the late eighties and nineties wasn’t a political one by any stretch. It was defined by hedonism. But someone in power felt threatened enough to legislate against it.”

Kieran goes on to give the verbatim description from the Act, which said everything, but the term ‘rave’.

“It described them as ‘public gatherings around amplified music characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats’. Well that’s just pretty much all music isn’t it?” he laughs in a manner which I know is accompanied by a shake of the head.

“People who didn’t really understand the thing, feeling threatened by the thing and then trying to legislate against the thing, so you get this hilarious attempt to try and describe what they are trying to nip in the bud. Just crazy.”

Although Kieran certainly found his foundations in the Act, what actually materialised was a pretty conventional coming-of-age story, which he tells in a number of different voice from behind a desk.

“For a show which sees me spend most of my time sitting at a desk, it is a quite demanding one to perform,” he laughs. “But, it was my idea in the first place, so I can’t blame anyone but myself.”

“Johno is the main story, but we spend some time with his mother and there’s also the story of a police officer. Those stories all happen on the same day and interweave with each other... that’s all it is, and that’s all I’m going to say.”

Although, I think we can safely assume Johnny doesn’t simply go to the rave, have a blast and return happily home without incident. But then again, that’s what I did back in the day, so who knows?

Meanwhile if you’re reading this thinking you might be a little too mature to go along to a rave play, you may want to reconsider.

“It’s loud and big and brash and has all the smells and bells of a piece which might appeal primarily to younger people, but that’s really not the experience of it,” assures Kieran.

“It’s not just for younger audiences and that’s really exciting. People from older generations come too and find connections in the show in its discussion and characters. And the ones in their late thirties are full of nostalgia and loving it...”

  • Beats plays Live Theatre tomorrow and Saturday. Call 0191 232 1232 or visit www.live.org.uk for tickets.

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