A man sits behind a desk in a room. He speaks into a microphone, telling a story. He is illuminated by small lights that generate two massive shadow heads (and hands) on the back wall. The effect is spooky and entrancing. The man is Kieran Hurley, Scottish playwright and theatre-maker, best known for Beats. The story is about the end of the world.
Unusually, Heads Up is written in second person. We are Mercy, a market analyst, who deals in futures. We are also Ash, a twelve-year-old playing SimCity; we are Leon, a coked-up popstar; and we are Abdullah, a suffering customer service employee. And we know that things cannot continue as they are, that the end is coming.
Adding to the atmosphere is the sonic score by Michael John McCarthy, which draws on a range of styles, from the Final Fantasy soundtracks to Thomas Tallis to David Bowie, as well as loud electrical humming noises. Hurley’s monologue is clever, expressive and vividly invokes the characters he describes. His performance is angry and sad and powerful.
With world events are they are – the post-referendum uncertainty in the UK, nuke-happy Donald Trump’s bid for presidency in the US, mass shootings and bombings in all corners of the world, the rising CO2 levels and climate change – it’s not surprising that the end of the world seems to be something of a theme at this year’s fringe. However, Heads Up is not all bleak. It might be the end of the world as we know it, but who says that has to be a bad thing?
As its title suggests, this play is a warning and a call-to-action. Things cannot continue as they are, and it is the choices we make as this world is ending that will shape the start of whatever comes next. Heads Up is an intense experience, but one which leaves you feeling optimistic and ready for some sort of revolution.