Together in the dark

8 April 2020

Hetty Hodgson shares a playlist, and memories of her NSDF-selected show Beats

There’s something very strange about reflecting on ‘what could have been’ in an ideal world before this pandemic, and I've generally found it hard to reflect on projects that have been put on hold. As I sit down to write this, I’m thinking about how, in this ‘ideal world’, I – along with some of my best mates – would be preparing for our second day of shows at NSDF in Paines Plough's Roundabout – a venue and a festival I have dreamt of making work in. There’s something even stranger in that the show we were meant to be bringing, Beats by Kieran Hurley, explores the need for shared purpose in a world that tells us we’re meant to function as individuals. It seems to me that this need for shared purpose is more important than ever right now. Having an online festival this year epitomises Beats' polemic, allowing us to feel connected in a world which, now more than ever, is stopping us from being so.

In 1994, the Criminal Justice and Order Act made it illegal for public gatherings around “amplified music which is wholly predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”. Beats follows the story of Johnno McCreadie, a teenager living in the small Scottish town of Livingstone at the time of the Act. It seems slightly self-indulgent to be spending time and words thinking about a show which we’re not sharing now (and thinking anyone is in the slightest bit interested), but I’ve found huge comfort in discovering that part of the story we would be telling transcends into this time. 

I have a lot of friends who are not interested in theatre at all, and I get the most joy making work which they love, if I can get them there. I think this is what drives me to want to tell stories that are relatable and accessible, and with Beats this manifested itself in inviting the audience into a piece they experience as well as watch. Told by one (amazing and talented, may I say) performer, Danny Parker, who embodies and shows a range of characters in, or related to, Johnno’s life and his relationship with the law. But he is not alone in his performance. He performs alongside a live DJ throughout (Hamish Tyler), live visuals (Jack Dobson) and lighting responding and operated live (Freddy Sherwood). He also asks the audience, in this experience, to be part of the story, to imagine, “which is just as well, because nobody can arrest your imagination. Yet”.

Through having a live DJ and soundtrack underscoring the entire show, Kieran’s play gives the audience no choice but to rebel against the Act, and join together in experiencing the music, the ‘living pulse’. We performed Beats in one of Durham’s very questionable nightclubs and I hope the play left the audience wanting to dance. I hope we’ll get to do the show again and when we do, I want to leave the audience in an environment where they can continue the experience together, into the night. 

I miss theatre deeply, but personally (shoot me), I don’t miss it any more than being out and dancing with my friends, or laughing, or chatting total shit. It is the shared experience – a collection of people, doing something at the same time, together, that I truly miss. Music was central to Beats, and listening to music is one way that I have managed to feel, just a bit, connected. Even if we are physically alone we still have the capacity for shared experience. It’s not the same as bringing the show to you, sitting in the theatre together and sharing a story, there is no capacity to hug each other and have a pint together after. Beats explores the freedom of hearts and minds to gather in public spaces, and right now we can’t do that. But, in sharing our playlist with you, I hope you get a flavour of what Beats is, and are able to feel a connection in some small way in the knowledge that someone, somewhere, might be listening to the same music as you. 

Click here for the Spotify playlist

In Beats, on the way to the rave, listening to “flutter” D-Man explains how “Autechre, what they did yah, was they recorded this track where no bars contain identical beats. This track has no, by definition no repetitive beats. You could have a big fuck off party and listen to nothing but this track and they’d have to let ya! It’d be totally fucking legal and they’d have to fucking let ya”. I am absolutely gutted that we aren’t able to bring Beats to NSDF this year, I’m sad not to remount Beats for the Roundabout (which is my favourite venue ever), I’m sad not to see everyone's amazing work and I miss the connection and opportunities that NSDF brings. Yet this is something so much larger than us, and there are some absolutely heartbreaking and awful things happening (which words seem almost futile for). So I hope I can spend more time to reflect on what Beats tells us about connection, what Autechre did with flutter, and to try and find ways to have some connection, even when it seems like we can’t. This week, through NSDF online, I have found a piece of that.

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Photograph: Ed Rees