The newest play from writer, director and actor Kevin Hutchinson offered up a great chance to take theatre out of the theatre and into new and interesting places. Tyneside Irish Centre certainly offers that up, the venue was turned into a wonderful space for an interesting theatrical performance across two nights, as A Different Beat certainly went to a beat all of its own.
It is a piece of theatre that while filled with darkness, and moments of sublime tension, still feels like it could be very accessible to potential new theatre-goers who are often reticent to embrace the fantastic shows theatres can offer up. There was a rawness throughout, with dialogue that felt tremendously authentic, and was delivered with great restraint and subtlety from a very talented cast.
A Different Beat, at its core, is a horror story, centred on a plot twist that feels as though it could feature in an Edgar Allan Poe story, and one I’ll gladly not spoil here and let you get swept away with should the play get another chance to be seen again. The interwoven stories benefited from some meticulous staging that always held the audience’s eyes and ears in just the right place and crafted some mesmerising images. It’s the story of a missing child, a father wanting answers, and seeing the captor dealing with his actions, though with an ominous character looking over his shoulder, the play takes unexpected, but perfectly written turns to keep you engrossed from start to finish.
With Kevin Hutchinson both acting in and directing the play he wrote, he deserves immense credit for taking on the role of The Thoughts, driving the plot forward by being in the ear of two of the other characters and remaining nefarious and sinister throughout. It’s the little flourishes, the movements, the way he stalks across the stage and has a real deliberate nature to his actions that makes it so watchable. His direction aids this too, at the moments of real horror, he avoids the gory or the salacious, to allow the audience’s imagination to fit the story together, and it benefits the play immensely.
Other performances that the play really hung on came from Marti Williams and Simon Buglass. In their respective roles as Graham and Jerry both actors immersed themselves in characters that are utterly tortured in very different ways. These were cleverly nuanced performances that didn’t grandstand and whether it was Marti’s captivating portrayal of a broken, disconsolate man dealing with his daughter’s disappearance, or Simon Buglass taking on the completely tormented Jerry and retaining a vulnerability for a character who had committed such a despicable act; both showed real guile in playing these challenging roles.
Sam Neale too put in a stellar performance as Victoria, taking the thrust of the second half on her shoulders and carrying through the suffering as the play reaches its powerful denouement. It was a strong cast who all played their part, and with excellent choices in music at just the right moments, allowed this dark, minimalist drama to shine.
With hopefully more to come from Kevin Hutchinson, whether with Flaming Barstools which involves another three of the cast members on show here, or other ventures, he’s shown he’s adept at tackling tough subject matter and crafting a strong, gripping narrative around it.