REVIEW: HEADS UP (Battersea Arts Centre) ★★★★

Heads Up Battersea Arts Centre

We’re dangerous when we’re dying. Just like beetles.

So says Kieran Hurley, in his new show Heads Up. He holds his audience in thrall; he is eerie and wild with red-rimmed eyes and an air of delirium. Within seconds, we’re hanging on his every word. Is he a puppet master, or just a storyteller with a God complex? He sits at a desk, operating synthesisers, face lit as if he’s telling ghost tales by a campfire. He talks about the end of the world.

Heads Up weaves the stories of Leon, Mercy, Ash and Abdullah, and follows them as they navigate the events of their lives and try to deal with the crazy stuff going on around them. They panic, they’re violent, they’re serene, they seek control, they embrace nihilism. The writing is meticulously observed and rich with detail. Fusing spoken word and music, Hurley uses poetic refrains and an electronic score to give the show its relentless energy and an off-beat, robotic quality.

Hurley touches on plenty of modish themes in this breakneck hour of theatre. Does ‘the system’ exist only because we all say it does? What does it take for us to throw off the instinct to obey and conform? Have we destroyed ourselves with capitalism or will nature do the job for us? How do humans react when presented with their imminent certain death? His fascination with our imagined destruction is almost perverse and his attention to detail unflinching.

Throughout the chaos that unfolds, Hurley trains our focus on the physicality of living – the breathing, the sweating, the bleeding, the crying. He draws on ideas of mindfulness and of being present in the moment. We are here, Hurley tells us, and that’s enough. Consequently, the rapt audience gives Heads Up the kind of intensely focused atmosphere you might encounter at a yoga class or group meditation session.

Heads Up is a thrilling and vividly imaginative piece of new writing and Hurley’s performance is hypnotic and powerful. This captivating hour of theatre is not to be missed.

Reviewed by Annabel Mellor