Visceral. Energetic. Powerful. It’s hard to image a piece of drama getting any closer to the real-life world of boxing than Frantic Assembly and the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Bryony Lavery’s Beautiful Burnout.
Centred on Cameron Burns Stuart Ryan, a young boxer with raw talent and big dreams, the play tells of five passionate, wannabe fighters as they struggle to hone their talents at the hands of God-like trainer, Bobby Burgess Keith Fleming, who demands their total dedication at his Glasgow gym.
Terrifically choreographed and directed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, each scene is a mix of balletic boxing action and affecting drama, all set to a pulsating Underworld soundtrack.
The whole cast is on top form, with Fleming pitch-perfect as Burgess and Julie Wilson Nimmo providing an extra layer of pathos as Burns’ proud but tortured mother. Each of the young boxers manages to pull off both the athletic and dramatic aspects of their roles with style, especially Taqi Nazeer as ‘showboater’, Ajay, and Margaret Ann Bain as Dina, an angry young woman determined to make it as a professional in men’s boxing.
On the downside, the play does suffer from a certain amount of repetition, despite its interval-free 90-minute running time, and the final scene does become a little overwrought.
But overall, while it’s easy to drag out the boxing clichés when discussing a show like this, to do so here would be doing a great disservice to an original and exciting piece of work that takes the audience close enough to feel the blood, sweat and tears.
Beautiful Burnout is at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 10 November 2012. Contact the box office on 0113 2137700, or visit www.wyp.org.uk. For details on other touring venues, visit www.franticassembly.co.uk. The performance is suitable for those aged 14+.