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Beautiful Burnout

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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For the year’s other big play on the sport, Roy WilliamsSucker Punch, the Royal Court Theatre was transformed into a boxing ring; here, for the first tour stop of Bryony Lavery’s Beautiful Burnout, a famous boxing ring – at the York Hall Centre in London’s East End, care of the Barbican – is transformed into a theatre, with astounding results. The venue, in which you can almost smell the accumulated stench of years of sweat and toil, fits this highly visceral production like, um, a glove. So much so, it’s hard to imagine how it could have quite the same impact elsewhere.

The setting, in combination with Frantic Assembly’s trademark mix of stylised movement, choreography, video design and musical blasts, creates a theatrical experience that’s a true “event”. But, while it got my heart physically thumping for its speed, style and visual flair, it didn’t grab that organ emotionally as much as I’d hoped.

Only the female characters – mother (fetchingly played by Lorraine M McIntosh) of the promising but ill-fated Cameron Burns and fellow boxing trainee Dina (ball-breaking Vicki Manderson) – are given any real back story or emotional depth. And the lack of a two-way development of either the mother-son or possible romantic relationship diminishes the losses that come with the tragic finale.

- Terri Paddock

NOTE: The following FOUR-STAR review dates from August 2010 and this production’s original run at the Edinburgh Fringe.

It may not have the full visceral, surprise power of Black Watch, but the National Theatre of Scotland’s new boxing show certainly packs a knock-out punch.

Four Glaswegian lads and a lassie pummel the bags and skip the light fantastic on a raised platform in a new venue out back of  Pleasance Courtyard. There’s a seen-it-all trainer, of course, but there’s also a worried mum. This element of “softness” comes from writer Briony Lavery who, with directors Steven Hoggett and Scott Graham of Frantic Assembly, both celebrates the sport and shows what damage it can cause.

The final ten minutes are mawkish and over-stretched, but there’s no denying the beauty and excitement of the fight routines and dancing refs, bathed in video film and the pulsating house music of Underworld.

Another huge hit for NTS is assured, with stunning performances from Taqi Nazeer and Ryan Fletcher as the old friends who face off in the final showdown (same pattern as in Roy WilliamsSucker Punch) and brilliant Vicki Manderson as a feisty feminist fighter in all senses.

- Michael Coveney


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