Kieran Hurley: Heads Up
By Caro Moses | Published on Thursday 16 March 2017
At the Edinburgh Festival in 2016, one of the shows causing lots of buzz and garnering glowing reviews was the Fringe First winning ‘Heads Up’, a one man piece written and performed by the talented Kieran Hurley.
When I heard that the play was headed to Battersea Arts Centre as part of a UK tour, I was keen to find out more about the show and the creative force behind it, so I put some questions to Mr Hurley, ahead of the London run.
CM: Can you start by telling us who and what ‘Heads Up’ is about? What’s the story?
KH: On the face of it, it’s an end of the world story; it’s about the apocalypse. But really it’s about alienation, anxiety, and how it feels to live in a world built on constant crisis. It’s about the multiple separate lives living together but apart from each other in this city, a fictional city that is maybe London, maybe Glasgow, maybe a stand-in for whatever city the show is being performed. In particular it’s about a twelve year-old girl, a city finance worker, a precariously employed service industry worker, and a ridiculous coke-addled celebrity. Each of them, in their own way, is kind of broken by the world and living through their own personal crisis.
CM: What are the primary themes? What ideas did you want to explore?
KH: Oh. I think I kind of answered that in the question above, did I? I want to add that there’s jokes in it too though, honest.
CM: What inspired you to create a show on this subject? How did you come up with the idea?
KH: Those are always the hardest questions to answer. I suppose the very initial seed of it was in wanting to do something with the powerlessness I felt in response to a rolling sense of endless catastrophe on the news and all media. And I wanted to make a piece that was light on its feet, that would meet an audience quickly, and that felt in some urgent or immediately about now. And I wanted to experiment a bit with using sound in some new ways in storytelling, so that finds a way into the show too. I was also inspired very early on by a beautiful game called Queers in Love at the End of the World.
CM: How did you go about creating the script? Is it something that you sat down and wrote or was there more of a devising process?
KH: I sat down and wrote all of it, but the early ideas were thrashed out in a big collaborative process with co-directors Alex Swift and Julia Taudevin, plus MJ McCarthy, who did the music. The form and the relationship to sound and music developed alongside the script as opposed to being planted on it at the end.
CM: What’s it like being directed by someone else when you’ve written the play?
KH: Because of the nature of the collaboration it doesn’t really feel as external as that. And I had two directors, Alex and Julia, who did a kind of tag-team. The fact that they have a close relationship to the work is key, but it’s also crucial that they’re not me – that they’re outside of it, and see things that I can’t.
CM: You appear to take a lot of different approaches to creating your work. Can you tell us a bit about the stuff you have done in the past, and the kind of artists you’ve collaborated with?
KH: I have this running repeated joke about being a frustrated bass player, a kid who wanted to be in bands but couldn’t play an instrument so started making devised theatre instead then roped all my cooler friends in to do music with me. Collaborating across art forms is something I love, so I’ve worked loads with musicians. It’s a process I get a big kick out of because I love it when other artists bring something I never could, and I like when the words develop as breath, as something live, not something just contained to a relationship between me and my desk.
CM: What made you want this kind of career?
KH: Avoidance of “real work” (though of course it is also real work) and chance, I suppose. I’m fortunate enough that people are still letting me do it for now.
CM: What do you want from the future?
KH: Man, I’m touring a show that is literally about the end of the world, can we not?
CM: I think a lot of people are feeling at the moment as though the end of the world is nigh. Do you feel negative or hopeful about where we are headed?
KH: Pretty shitty, truth be told. Though I’m already beginning to feel like there is something a bit unhelpful and reactionary about wallowing in doom for too long. Hope is the thing that’s truly radical. The tricky thing is that it needs to come from somewhere authentic or it means nothing. I hope there is traces of this in the show. But it’s also something I need to do more to build into my own life, in my own relationship with politics, with activism and organising. I have a kid now, and I completely reject from experience the idea that it makes you more conservative. The future matters in a completely different way.
CM: What’s coming up next for you?
KH: I have a couple of other theatre things that I dunno if I can talk about because I still don’t know if they’re gonna happen. And a film thing too, which I’m pretty excited about. And I keep flirting with the idea of setting up a theatre company. We’ll see…
‘Heads Up’ is on at Battersea Arts Centre from 20 Mar-1 April, see the venue website here for all the details.
Photo: Niall Walker