Review: BEATS, King's Head Theatre

An adaptation that champions our imaginations and emphasises the power of collective gathering

By: Apr. 22, 2024
Review: BEATS, King's Head Theatre
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Review: BEATS, King's Head Theatre Returning to the brand new King’s Head Theatre, Ned Campbell takes on award-winning Scottish playwright Kieran Hurley’s Beats in an adaptation that champions our imaginations and emphasises the power of collective gathering.

Johnno McCreadie and Robert Dunlop are living in suburban Scotland when the Criminal Justice and Order Act makes it illegal for people to gather to "amplified music which is wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.”

Johnno, an isolated and unsuspecting teenager, sneaks away to his first illegal rave with his best mate. Robert, a pragmatic policeman, is on his way to shut it down. As Robert, son of a Ravenscraig steelworker, reflects rationally on the effectiveness of protest, we see Johno physically experience the euphoric energy of his first rave, uniting him with a group so much larger than himself. 

“None of this is real,” we are reminded from the top. With no set, props, or costumes, we rely on Campbell’s performance to carry us through the story. This is a show that wants to harness our imagination, reminding us of the power it holds in our own lives.

Review: BEATS, King's Head Theatre

Co-directors Ned Campbell, Eloïse Poulton and Victoria Woodward remove the video projections in this adaptation, leaving lighting as the only visual design element of the show. Alex Lewer steps up the challenge, moving between a concentrated spotlight and electric neon colours flashing across Campbell’s body. Tom Snell is our DJ on stage, mixing before us a hypnotic soundtrack of rebellious repetitive beats that take us right to the centre of the dance floor.

Ned Campell effortlessly moves between characters, painting a detailed picture of Johno through the eyes of those around him. It’s a shame that his microphone often muffles up his voice, making his inhales more poignant than the text himself. 

Johno takes a pill for the first time and we watch this awkward teenager finally surrender to the world outside of him. He dances deliriously, sweaty yet fully feeling the collective force of the rave. It’s a glorious moment to witness but the audience never experiences the “part theatre show, part rave” we are promised, done so well in a show like Trainspotting Live.

For a show about rebellion, the staging remains highly contained. The atmosphere of the rave is clear, but the sound and visuals are underwhelming for an event where booming music and blinding lights are vital. There’s an immersive element missing here, a lost opportunity considering we are participating in a collective gathering ourselves.

Beats remain a wondrous exploration of the freedom and connection that dancing evokes. Resistance and protest can feel like intellectual endeavours, but repetitive beats might just be the life force that keeps us moving forward.

Beats is at the King’s Head Theatre until 27 April

Photo Credits: Josh Mcclure


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