“Beautiful Burnout” at St. Ann’s Warehouse
Much has been made of the back story for Beautiful Burnout, Frantic Assembly and the National Theatre of Scotland’s theater piece on boxing (at St. Ann’s Warehouse until March 27). The idea was sown when the company was at St. Ann’s performing Black Watch several years ago: co-choreographer/director Steven Hoggett paid a visit to Gleason’s Boxing Gym—home of Mohammed Ali and a slew of other stars—where he was struck by the intense physicality of the sport. Back in the UK, the idea evolved into a theater production, with the actors clocking serious hours learning to box while developing the piece.
So from what I’d read before settling into my seat, I was expecting high-octane feinting and fisticuffs. The boxing gloves were out in full force, but the number of choreographed, almost dance-like routines interspliced throughout surprised me. These interludes made me all too aware that I was watching a show with actors, as opposed to real boxers—the exact opposite of the point of all that real-life running, punching, and drilling.
The story itself follows a predictable arc: talented amateur gets a break and briefly shines before ‘burning out.’ It’s a testimony to both the actors and Hoggett and co-choreographer/director Scott Graham that the sparring is flat-out believable, but Bryony Lavery’s script doesn’t back up the rigor of the fast-paced, meticulously crafted fight scenes.
Recommended + related: National Theatre of Scotland’s much-lauded Black Watch is making an unexpected return to St. Ann’s, April 16-May 8. Since premiering in 2006 at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the show has swept up 22 awards internationally, including a 2009 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Theatre Choreography for Hoggett.