There is something so obviously primal about the drums, basic in form, driven by pulse and rhythm, mimicking the steady thrum of our heart beat itself. So when teenage Alfie (Daniel Bellus) announces at the beginning of one-man play, Beat, that ‘it was the drums that chose me,’ it is easy to identify with the thrall this elemental instrument holds over him.
In a superb monologue (Molière-nominated, and written by Cédric Chapuis) Alfie details his ever-deepening obsession with the drums, from early tinkering, to bravura proficiency. Bellus accompanies himself throughout the performance and its the most entrancing drum solo seen this side of the film Whiplash – he’s brilliantly accomplished. While charting the growth of his passion, Alfie weaves in – almost incidentally – details of life with his battered mother and abusive father, fractious interactions with his teachers, frustrated at his lack of scholarly focus, and stressful, inept run-ins with his classmates.
The play is never overt in offering a diagnosis, but it is nevertheless implied that Alfie is on the autistic spectrum, with his inability to read simple social queues and his detached, obsessive nature. Drums provide respite from the complexity of the social world. His growth as a performer and knowledge of the milieu is thrilling to watch – from sitting in his bedroom swimming in the beats of Art Blakey on his grandmother’s record collection, to joining a garage band and keening to the thrash of Metallica and AC/DC.
If the play falters with a shock ending, it can be excused – perhaps the story was striving unnecessarily towards a definitive climax – as the preceding journey is so entertaining, empathic and warm that the misstep is easily overlooked. A charming production from an actor and writer worth keeping an eye out for in the future.