Australian Dance Reviews

Beautiful Burnout

Seymour Centre, The University of Sydney
January 2012
As part of Sydney Festival

By Linda Badger.

Set in what could be the tiny and obscure boxing gyms of backyard Scotland, Frantic Assembly and the National Theatre of Scotland brought their mesmerising physical theatre production of Beautiful Burnout to Sydney Festival.  

The atmosphere was set as we entered the theatre with trance-like electro music preparing the audience for what would be a very confronting journey; a journey through the intense psychology of the sport of boxing…the highs, the lows, the struggles and the wins.  With a stage almost in the round, interchangeable parts and a set you could hang off, this was sure to be a winner. 

However, even though the show boasted some incredibly phenomenal moments, these were juxtaposed by elements that were fairly average. There was a real contrast in presentation.  There were few standout performance moments, notably one by lead character ‘Cameron Burns’ (Kevin Guthrie), highlighting in the closing moments the physicality of his portrayal of the effects of an horrific boxing injury. This scene completely drew me in.  I can’t say there were many other moments like this though, which was not helped by a fairly under developed storyline.  There were snippets of how this world of boxing affects the people involved, their relationships and their worldview.  However, they were only snippets, with immature character and story development for all the ‘cans of worms’ that were opened.  There was neither lead up nor follow through, leaving us wondering why things were revealed but not validated. Each moment could have been interweaved throughout the story and resolved or unfolded, but instead they left us dry.

Choreographically there were a few really interesting moments. The movement was geared towards the non-dance audience. The choreography was very simplistic and literal. It was not an attempt at being too artistically clever or abstract, and was geared completely towards the characters.  The actors embraced this so well that we were not distracted by portions of technical dance movement. Each character was at the forefront of these moments, not giving us the impression that we were watching a jazzed up ‘dance break’, which was no easy feat for the performers.   

The soundtrack mostly consisted of electro and mood music, written by Underworld, who are long term collaborators with Frantic Assembly.  Structurally the work went from dialogue, to monologue, to movement, in a fairly repetitive pattern interjected with random moments such as characters hanging of the back drop having a casual conversation.  Not exploring much outside of this, the work seemed a little un-inventive.

All in all, the formula for this kind of production has been done and done, so it would be nice to see this piece developed further, with more room for some of the juicier parts of the story, and exploring less typical choices of soundtrack and structure.  It was enjoyable to watch nonetheless, with an intriguing subject matter. However, I believe the potential for this work has yet to be reached. Beautiful Burnout is still one to go and watch if you enjoy physical theatre.

Top photo: Beautiful Burnout by the National Theatre of Scotland and Frantic Assembly. Photo by Gavin Evans.

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