Writer: Dawn King
Director: Rob Drummer
This leisurely rave story isn’t quite the party that the publicity promises. The audience is expected to stand for 100 minutes, which would be okay if there was some music to dance to but most of the play is spoken. And rather than euphoric, Addictive Beat is, in the main, depressing.
The publicity also says that the Boundless Theatre production will be immersive, but being stood up does not mean that a play is immersive. Taking place in Dilston Gallery, a converted church in Southwark Park, Addictive Beat is not even site-specific as most of the action takes place in a boy’s grotty bedsit. It’s a stunning venue, and its cavernous interior could be compared to a nightclub like the old Limelight club that once took place in a converted church in Shaftesbury Avenue, but if the play were to be truly immersive it would take place in a boy’s untidy bedroom.
The boy is Alex, who goes by the name DJ ALX. With visions of being a top flight DJ, Alex has lost his way. He’s working on music, but hasn’t released any tracks for years. He stays up all night, but always starts from scratch again the next day. He’s a perfectionist like Joseph Grand in Camus’ The Plague who seems consigned to write and rewrite the first and only line of his uncompleted novel.
But when he meets old friend Robbi, Alex’s creative spirit is revived, Robbi is a singer, doing well in London, singing covers and songs written for her by other people. However, Alex tells her that she is being manipulated by her manager, and that her own songwriting skills are going to waste. But if they worked together, perhaps they could come up with a track that would highlight their musical talents to the fullest.
Instead of a banging floor-filler what they make is a song so good that it acts like a drug. Reaching joyous heights like ecstasy, the music is also dangerously addictive. Robbi fears that society could end if the track were ever released on social media. In this way, Robbi’s concerns are similar to the media in the 1980s who worried that the teenage generation would give up work in order to dance once the Second Summer of Love took hold.
It’s an interesting extended metaphor for addiction, but it comes so late in the play that it almost feels like a spoiler to mention it at all, despite the play’s title. Quite a few of the scenes could easily be cut without the story losing any nuance. The couple repeatedly argues about Robbi’s career even into the play’s final scenes. Written by Dawn King, whose The Trials just went down so well at the Donmar, Addictive Beat feels a little flabby, like an extended remix that merely repeats the bridges without getting to the chorus.
In an exciting casting, Dunkirk’s lead actor Fionn Whitehead plays Alex, and his DJ is awkward and restless. In the flashing light design, Whitehead has the sickly pallor of a boy who never leaves his room. In contrast Boadicea Ricketts’ Robbi is full of energy and bounces around the stage that has been erected in the middle of the performance space. But playing in the round comes with its own problems as when the actors turn their backs to engage with the other side of the audience their lines are very often lost.
But they work hard in a physical piece that has them dancing – movement by Ira Mandela Siobhan – and singing. If only their energy could only seep into the audience. The end also feels a little moralistic and even with the disco finale Addictive Beat is a long, long comedown.
Runs until 7 October 2022