Apocalypse now?

| by Eleanor Turney

Kieran Hurley tells Eleanor Turney that his one-man show, Heads Up, takes a world in crisis and examines alienation, anxiety and apocalypse

Heads Up by Kieran Hurley with Show and Tell. Photograph: Niall Walker

Coming back to the show, having done it last year, I've been re-evaluating what audiences will take from it. When we first opened, I had no idea what it was, because it was made in a flurry and then suddenly was on stage. Now, with a bit of reflection, it's an apocalypse narrative.

It's been fun to write that kind of biblical, sci-fi conceit, but really it's a story about alienation and anxiety, and how we are separate from each other, and how we'd do better not to be. Ultimately, theatre's a good place to ask those questions and have conversations, because we share that space together. I hope people take from it the conversation about how we live together.

But there are still jokes in it too! I do hope that people will take that from it as well. It's hard to distill the hopes you have about what people might take from a work that you create. One of the things that's great about making work like this is when someone's response surprises you in an interesting way.

"Theatre's a good place to ask those questions, because we share that space together"

When it was written and made, I felt that we were living in a world built on crisis. That's basically what the show's about. It's about how it feels to live in a world that is built on a constantly escalating crisis. What you don't want is for people to turn around and say, 'oh, that's very zeitgeisty!' But that was very much the case, which was interesting – to find out that a lot of other people were feeling that way too.

I began making the show before the Brexit vote, but then it happened before the show opened. It brought this feeling of doom to a lot of people's minds, but the show wasn't specifically about that vote. The very last date of the UK tour was in Ipswich, the day after the general election, and Ipswich had just turned Labour for the first time.

The broad assumption about the demographics that make up an audience in a studio theatre during a contemporary performance festival, made me think that a bunch of people in the room would think that [Labour winning the seat] was a good thing. I had never performed the show in a political context that felt optimistic, so that was unusual. It felt different for me. Broadly, the political narrative of our times is still on a similar trajectory to where it was a year ago, so we will see what happens next.

"It's to do with hypermodernity and living under urban, late-capitalist conditions"

The crucial thing to say is that it's not a Brexit play – I don't think there's anything specific to Britain in it. The story is set in a fictional city which is a stand in for whatever city we're in or closest to. In many ways, it's Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, but it's not to do with Britishness.

It's to do with hypermodernity and living under urban, late-capitalist conditions. I think that those are social conditions that are quite global. Of course it's very difficult to determine what people from different parts of the world are going to make of it, but it's not got a focus limited to the UK.

It's quite intense to get up and perform a one-man show every night. Last year was the first time I'd done a full three-week Fringe run of a one-man show. This year, I'm only performing during the Edinburgh Showcase week so it'll be a little different. By the end of it last year, I was really into the show, and you hone your skills as a performer. So while it's a slog for people, while people quite rightly want to talk about conditions at the Fringe for performers, and it is hard work, there's also something about opportunity. Work of this scale doesn't often get a run that long, and as a performer there's something really enabling and nourishing about doing the full three weeks. 


Kieran Hurley is a writer, performer and theatremaker based in Glasgow. His show Heads Up is made with Show and Tell. He was talking to Eleanor Turneya freelance journalist, editor and arts consultant, and Co-Director of Incoming Festival.

Heads Up, by Kieran Hurley with Show and Tell, is at Summerhall from 2227 August.


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