It’s always interesting to see a new piece of theatre and the vibrant Contact Theatre is an ideal venue for playwrights to try out their stuff. Burnt is a new play tackling the complex subject of relationships and attempts to make a cutting comment on contemporary society. Sadly it doesn’t achieve this; the main problem being that the play simply isn’t very original with the subject matter having been tackled much more successfully in classic plays such as Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and the sublime comedy Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh.
Despite a running time of just an hour, writer Conor McKee manages to establish the four characters quickly and effectively, although from thereon there’s not a great deal of character development and all four characters are fairly one dimensional and a little clichéd. The writing is certainly stronger for the female characters.
The two male characters, David and Paul (Nick Mason and Kenan Ally), are angry and spiteful young men both of whom, as the piece concludes, cut rather pathetic and lonely figures. Whilst Ally is certainly the more convincing of the two in their angrier moments, it is Mason who gives a more rounded performance of a man with torments.
It is, however, much easier to sympathise with the women of the piece, Anna and Samantha (Aisling Caffrey and Claire Disley). Both are astute young women in dysfunctional relationships who, in one particularly tender moment, display great understanding of each others’ sad situations. Again, the actresses are reasonably well matched, but Disley in particular shows a great emotional range, far more than the script as a whole allows.
The small venue is ideal for the intimacy of the piece and Jo Tuckers' functional set sits comfortably within the performance area. Director Wyllie Longmore uses the space well and ensures that a potentially dreary performance is kept moving along at a good pace.
Burnt is frustrating to watch. At times the script is repetitive and disjointed and this can be quite irritating but there are a handful of short moments where McKee’s talent and promise as a writer begins to become apparent. It is a real shame then that just as the story and script begin to gain momentum the whole thing comes to an abrupt and inconclusive end which, ultimately, is unsatisfying for an audience.
- Malcolm Wallace