BEATS review – King’s Head Theatre, London ★★★★☆

Photo: Josh Mcclure

Review by Natalie Evans

“This was not for nothing”

Johnno Mcreadie is a 15 year old laddie from Livingstone. Bored with the day to day of teenagedom and being nagged at by his mum about not getting into trouble with that wrong’un Spanner, he decides to do just that. Because Spanner and his cockney mate D something are going to a party out of town…
So, for an hour, BEATS takes us on a journey with Johnno into the late 90’s rave scene – a time wherein the authorities were trying desperately to shut it all down.

Told with brilliant simplicity (just a man with a chair, and a DJ deck in the corner), this production touches on themes such as youthful rebellion, generational disconnect, and of course, the impact of an infringement of freedom. Rhythmically written, the text is reminiscent of a spoken word poem, allowing the audience to appreciate the beauty in the dark and dingy world often associated with rave culture.
A masterful lighting design by Alex Lewer brings to life the vibrancy of this rave – full of color and movement, supporting Campbells performance by providing an energetic visual atmosphere.

With his calm and enigmatic charisma, solo performer Ned Campbell easily engages the audience from the offset. Sporting a thick Glaswegian accent complemented by a classic turn of the millennium style buzz cut, he could have believably just walked out of the 1996 film Trainspotting, which is apt for setting the scene of this story. Campbell seamlessly transitions from character to character, single handedly portraying protagonist Jonno Mcreadie and his entire social network.

Tom Snell’s sound design, that he personally operates as our onstage DJ, is faultless. Not missing a single titular BEAT, every track is clearly carefully selected in order to best underscore the events and environment of the story. My single gripe with the audio element of this piece though was the fact that Campbell wore a sort of bubble microphone headset for the duration of his performance. While I understood that this added to the 90s music aesthetic, the sound quality that came from it was just plain unappealing to the ear.

Overall though, this is a very strong piece. The characters and environment we are introduced to are genuinely very intriguing, but it does sort of feel like an overly long prologue rather than a standalone story at times.

BEATS is at King’s Head Theatre until 27 April 2024