Beat, an award-winning co-production by SiT Productions, Ki M'aime Me Suive and Scènes Plurielles, follows avid young drummer, Alfie, through his teenagehood. Told through monologue, movement and, of course, drumming, Beat comprises a gorgeous coming-of-age story of first love, sacrifice and playground politics. That is, until the 70 minute mark.
To start with what did work, the integration of drumming into the story is incredibly well-done. Not only does it hold its own as a dramatic device - bringing us into Archie’s headspace and making sense of his seemingly illogical decisions - but it also successfully fleshes out Archie’s three-dimensional, loud, strobe-lit world. From the early days playing on upturned plastic tubs, to narrative climax complete with electric drum kit, the creative team have an excellent handle on an aspect that could very easily feel tagged-on. The exposition, of which lots is necessary, is clean and tidy: the stuff that dramaturgs’ dreams are made of. Slowly, we get a picture of Alfie’s relationships, home life and ignorances, without it ever feeling forced or having the story meander into side-plots. All this sets up the story as a heartrendingly relatable tale of being a teenager who doesn’t quite fit in, which is funny and poignant in equal measures.
But then we get to the elephant in the room: “the boy who loves drums to death”, to quote the tagline. Without giving too much away, the final twist left me feeling genuinely angry - not at the injustice of the story, but at the injustice of the storytelling. Angry that a character that had been so gorgeously-rendered was used to serve the same rhetoric that, in the story, led to him being outcasted. Angry that the final twist didn’t make narrative sense: that the story threw away its own narratological brilliance, going in for a final tonal disjuncture, to feed into a frustrating social narrative.
Overall, Beat is worth a watch - in terms of stagecraft, it’s undoubtedly a highlight of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Unfortunately, it’s let down by a frustrating ending which doesn’t feel believable: where the creative team attempted to end on a bang, they instead crashed out.
But the drumming was pretty good.