We caught this play at the Dundee Rep last weekend and an enthralling and exhilarating performance it was. This was a touring production by the National Theatre of Scotland and Frantic Assembly. The play is about boxing and the dreams and ambitions of four young Glaswegians to find fame and fortune in the ring. Not all that interested in boxing, but this is no ordinary play. A raised boxing ring literally stands out in the centre of the stage and all the action takes place on this platform. And there is a lot of action which befits a play about boxing. Physical movement features highly, from fitness exercises, training routines to actual boxing matches. All are done in a series of beautifully choreographed balletic scenes. Though there is a narrative story to the play, the action moves more a sequence of short vignettes than traditional acts, many about three minutes in length as in a round of boxing. There is in fact no break in the approximately 1 hour 45 minutes of the work, which just adds to the intensity of the piece.
The title, Beautiful Burnout is a clever play of words on the essence of the work. Boxing is portrayed at times as something beautiful, but the brutal realities of the sport are shown in their full horrors. The play does not hide away from the sexism associated with boxing. It does this primarily through the two female characters. One of the young boxing hopefuls is a young woman and her development contrasts sharply with that of the young men. She ends up as the bikini clad glamourous hostess holding up the round numbers during the final boxing match. The other female character is Carlota, the mother of one of the young male hopefuls. Much put-upon and long suffering, Carlota is nevertheless a feisty and in-yer-face woman. Her role has many of the best lines and was performed with much panache by Julie Wilson Nimmo, by a small margin the stand out performance on the night.
The whole cast was excellent and the action rips along at a fair pace. This is a very clever and innovative production. Much of the honours must go to Bryony Lavery who wrote Beautiful Burnout, and the production team who have created an exciting piece of theatre. To complement the balletic sequences the play has some very sharp, funny and at times bitter dialogue. Additional material to complement the action of the play is shown on a multi-screen backdrop to the set. Very loud and frantic sounding music by Underworld both before and during the play maintains the fast and furious pace of the performance. Great stuff and a very enjoyable night out.