Having seen Beautiful Burnout in 2010 when the production won the Edinburgh Fringe First Award, it was difficult to see how this performance two years on could live up to the memory of such a fresh and exciting new piece of physical theatre. However it proved to exceed all prior expectations.
Frantic Assembly’s production tracks the lives of five amateur boxers as they train passionately for a professional career of discipline and obedience, in order to leave the dangerous streets of Glasgow behind them as a dark, distant memory of the past.
Boxing is often likened to ballet, and Beautiful Burnout utilises the art of dance to expose the beauty and fragility of this supposedly ‘aggressive’ and ‘brutal’ sport. The physicality of the actors is striking; they are literally pouring with sweat in the tremendously energetic and demanding scenes of exercise. These are performed alongside upbeat, rousing music pulsating out from the speakers, making the ordinarily quiet and peaceful experience of an auditorium seem like a disappointing cliché in comparison. These dramatic bursts of action onstage are set against a backdrop of twenty one television screens, used to project the internal psyche of characters at their most vulnerable.
The strength of Beautiful Burnout lies in its ability to fuse the aesthetic with the compelling, to provide a meaningful narrative with which the audience can identify. The multimedia aspect plays an important part in achieving this end. Each boxer is fighting their own demons in the ring, not their opponent. They are escaping their working class upbringing, opposing the choices forced upon them by their parents, and using boxing as a tool to express themselves; which is why there is a great emotional investment in the protagonist Cameron when he is offered his first professional fight.
It is his mother and her reflections on his safety in a violent profession drive Cameron’s story forward. Her natural instinctive concern for her son characterises their relationship, which reaches a pivotal, poignant climax that forces the audience to empathise with the inward conflicts of the parent-child dynamic. These serious moments are contrasted perfectly against light-hearted influxes of humour, rounding the production off as a journey that is entertaining, emotionally satisfying and essentially beautiful to watch.
words: Emma Reidy