Kieran Hurley’s fast-paced monologue Heads Up is, perhaps, most nicely summarized by a singular image in which one character, smoking a spliff in the middle of night, watches news coverage describing Paris as existing in an ‘extended state of emergency’. Instantly the man sees the irony of such a sentence – isn’t a state of emergency, by its nature, a temporary moment of crisis? If a state of emergency is extended, doesn’t this just become the status quo? A status quo which is quite difficult and traumatizing?
Hurley’s monologue lightly weaves together a number of disparate characters, each dealing with the current state of “Keep Calm and Carry On”-Britain, taking on austerity, neo-liberalism, systemic misogyny, and corporate capitalism. While exploring these intensive themes, however, we are watching his, Kieran’s, body conjure these characters as if through a séance. And, just like Whoopi Goldberg’s psychic medium in Ghost, exhausted by the dead jumping in and out of her body, we see that Kieran (like all of us) is exhausted. Exhausted from living amongst the difficult news of the day, exhausted by the realities of uncertain labour, exhausted by the social media networks that bring it all together in rapid succession.
Heads Up looks directly into the eye of contemporary anxiety and exhaustion – in a way similar to Todd Haynes’ film Safe (1995) and Lucy Grace’s 2015 Edinburgh performance Garden, which both look closely at the embodied effect of terror and a world filled with uncertainty. Another Fringe legend, Penny Arcade, says it more concisely in her Longing Lasts Longer – “I don’t trust people who aren’t depressed and confused”. But, the question remains, what is to be done? The answer is certainly not in feigned happiness (which we see failing miserably when it comes to Hurley’s character Abdullah) but might, might, be possible in personal reflection and in a focus of personal well-being. But if the personal is saved, and calm, and at peace, the symptoms might be quelled, but is the cause? Is the cause of these anxieties even fixable? There is a nihilism to Heads Up which is palpable, but the airing of these problems shows a mind deeply engaged, empathic and interested in not just the personal, but the larger systemic problems in which we are all living. (BL)
Heads Up is on at 19.05 at Summerhall until 28th August (not 15th or 22nd). Wheelchair Access, Level Access - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/heads-up
Todd Haynes’ Safe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63NPIiCl3zo
Lucy Graces’ Garden: https://www.list.co.uk/event/491952-garden/
Rachael Ofiri’s Portrait: http://www.fueltheatre.com/projects/portrait
For Abdullah, and her amazingly ‘person perfect’ emotionally laborious performance at the coffee shop, The Managed Heart by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild: http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520272941