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Beautiful Burnout (Sheffield)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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With a cast and creative team all leaders in their field, how could this production by Frantic Assembly and National Theatre of Scotland be anything other than glossy and slick? In fact it really sparkles and shines; from the bling of a champion boxer’s shorts, to seeing stars after a knock out punch, to the moonlight reflected in the canal on a romantic walk home after a training session.

This highly physical drama about the bittersweet world of boxing has a boxing ring at its centre, and for the most part this is where the action takes place. At other times Laura Hopkins’ design sees the ring ingeniously transformed into a domestic setting, here we are reminded of the day to day impact of the sport; a contrast to the anticipated glamour of the ‘pot of gold’ dream at the adrenalin pumped intensity of the gym.

There is a documentary undertone in Bryony Lavery’s direct address monologue and the commentary style of a proportion of the text; the quality of research is evident. The script is also gut-stirringly poetic while at the same time earthy and human. The mode shifts seamlessly when scenes become more interactive, and again as we move into sections of sculptural physical theatre.

Hollywood twist and turn plot this is not, though neither is it predictable. Rather we’re presented with a visceral portrait of the sport, its intricacies and its people. It remains story rich, each character has a journey, but there’s a sparseness which paves the way for the movement and visual elements to work their magic. Often the bank of television screens manifests the psychological states that would otherwise have been articulated through the spoken word. The choreographed sections are immersive and emotive, particularly set against Underworld’s spine tingling soundtrack.  One particularly pleasing physical scene closely observes the body language of the referee, cleverly critiquing this role.

The downside to this brevity is a slight disconnectedness from the central protagonist who seems sparer than the other characters. I find myself rooting less for him than would be expected but I enjoy another side effect; the ordinariness of this character, unsuspecting and ill prepared for what lies ahead. At this point the play swerves even further away from the conventions of well known fight films.

Most of all I enjoy the performances of Vicki Manderson as frustrated female fighter Dina Massie and Lorraine M. McIntosh as Carlotta; their characterisation offering a less frequently aired perspective on this male dominated sport.

Runs at Sheffield Crucible Theatre until 13th November. www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk


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