Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Heads Up

Kieran Hurley
Show and Tell
HOME, Manchester
18 May 2017 to 20 May 2017

It’s the end of the world as we know it and author/performer Kieran Hurley does not feel fine. Inside HOME a kitchen table is arranged with some fairly high-tech sound mixing equipment. Yet despite the modern technology the mood for Heads Up is very much old school storytelling. Author and sole performer Kieran Hurley enters barefoot like a penitent and is illuminated by only a single candle. It feels like a campfire setting – you know the sort where people compete to tell the scariest story. Heads Up is a very scary story - it is a warning about the end of the world.

Hurley focuses upon four individuals. A stockbroker who deals in’ futures’ for financial profit and who cracks under the strain of realising there is no future and becomes a fire and brimstone prophet. A teen subjected to cyber bullying feels compelled to confront her tormentor before the end. A rock star, desperate for respect, jumps from one worthy cause to another while ignoring his pregnant girlfriend; and a barista learns that the banal motivational dogma he has been forced to observe really is meaningless. 

Although Hurley remains seated throughout the show this is far from a static performance. He is a very animated speaker, twisting and turning in his chair as the crisis deepens. Hurley’s vocal performance ensures that each of the characters has a distinct, vivid personality and that the emotional crisis each endures is just as gripping as the global chaos. Hurley is thrown off-guard and leaves character only once – when the audience respond to his opening greeting ... ‘That never happens in London!’

The musical score by Michael John McCarthy works in an almost cinematic manner - pushing forward the drama of the monologue. Blasts of white noise burst forth at particular moments when Hurley addresses the audience direct.

The script has an intoxicating rhythm close to blank verse, with flashes of poetic flare – council estates with beautiful names but where buses no longer run. Although Hurley is describing the end of the world, the overall tone is not that of horror but fatalism. There is a sense that Armageddon is a just and logical outcome after the way that we have mistreated the resources of the planet and each other. There is the weary feeling that the thousand and one acts of banal stupidity, crass ignorance and sheer selfishness to which we have become inured justify bringing things to a close. If we are that dumb, Hurley seems to suggest, we deserve everything we get. 

Heads Up paints a grim view of humanity that ought to leave the audience alienated and just plain fed up, but the startlingly original presentation and powerful script make for a captivating play.

Reviewer: David Cunningham