TSB Arena, Queens Wharf, Wellington

03/03/2012 - 18/03/2012

New Zealand International Arts Festival 2012

Production Details


“A brilliantly acted exploration of what makes boxers box and what happens when a shooting star shimmers, shines brightly and falls to earth.” The Guardian (UK)

The TV3 Season of Beautiful Burnout takes audiences into the world of boxing – literally. With a boxing ring as the revolving stage and a backdrop of glittering video screens, the audience is right in on the action. 

In what promises to be an adrenaline-filled night at the theatre, the cast duck and weave their way through brilliantly choreographed boxing sequences to tell the stories of five Glaswegian teenagers, including one young woman, all dreaming of glory.

The actors undertook intensive training in a real boxing gym in order to create this gritty, compelling story of the sport and its competitors. Written by British playwright Bryony Lavery (Frozen, Stockholm) and directed and choreographed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, Beautiful Burnout does not shy away from the emotive and sometimes polarising nature of the sport. “Its staging… allows us to pause and restart the action, and look at it from angle after angle, exploring the poetry, horror, beauty and sheer danger of beautiful young bodies in motion,’’ wrote The Scotsman.

Beautiful Burnout premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in 2010 and was named one of the London Observer’s top 10 plays of that year. It is a co-production between two world-renowned companies: the London-based physical theatre company Frantic Assembly, and the National Theatre of Scotland, and features a driving soundtrack by Underworld.

The National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch was a hit of the 2008 New Zealand International Arts Festival, and featured associate direction from Frantic Assembly’s Steven Hoggett. “Like Black Watch before it, Beautiful Burnout has all of the ingredients of a knock-out hit, wrote The Independent.

The TV3 Season of
Beautiful Burnout
at TSB Bank Arena
from 3 to 18 March
Tickets $48 – $68 available from Ticketek.


A visual spectacle without much depth

Review by Helen Sims 05th Mar 2012

As we wait in the lobby of the TSB Bank Arena, Beautiful Burnout sounds like a rave.  Thumping techno music drowns out conversations and creates a real sense of excitement.  The audience is seated on three sides of a raised stage that looks like a boxing ring without the ropes.  Pre-fight/pre-play anticipation and hype are well achieved – it feels like you have arrived at an event.  

The warm up is delivered by referee Steve George (Eddie Kay).  He paces about the ring talking about his role to ensure the integrity of the fight and protect the boxers without fear or favour.  The significance of his monologue will only be revealed right at the end of the show. 

The ref is followed by busy Scottish mum Carlotta Burns (Blythe Duff).  Her son Cameron (Kevin Guthrie), who she unloads from the dryer that has risen up from below the stage, has just taken up boxing.  Her light hearted comments about how much more food Cameron is eating and laundry he’s generating belie concern. 

Each of these monologues is delivered in exactly three minutes, mirroring the length of a boxing round.  The countdown is shown on screens that cover the wall at the rear of the stage.  The mosaic of screens shows the beautiful video design by Ian William Galloway, featuring star bursts, slow motion boxing sequences and crackles of electricity, amongst other things.  It’s a brilliant backdrop to the play, especially as the set is sparse.

Next, the lights go up on the gym of Bobby Burgess (Ewan Stewart).  He’s in the business of turning frogs into princes.  Bobby has one hot prospect in the form of Ajay Chopra (Taqi Nazeer).  A gentle giant type, Ainsley Binnie (Stuart Martin), and a manic, ill disciplined joker, Neil Neill (also played by Kay), are his training companions.  He also trains a tough but damaged girl, Dina Massie (Vicki Manderson), who refuses to pursue women’s boxing.  Cameron arrives and is also identified by Bobby as a natural boxer.  

The story then proceeds to follow Burgess working to turn Ajay, Neil and Cameron pro, and their ruthless training regime. There are multiple extended sequences of training to thumping techno music of Underworld.  Burgess demands absolute discipline and obedience.  When Ajay asserts himself, he is cut from the gym and Burgess’ management.  This sets him up to fight against one of his former training mates.

I’m a fairly recently converted boxing fan, so I was pretty excited to see a play that promised to explore the heart of boxing culture, capturing the sport’s physical intensity yet also revealing the stories of the fighters.  This is what the best and most memorable boxers (and their support crews) do: they combine physical skill with personal mythology to create a character.  Legendary examples include Muhammed Ali, Iron Mike Tyson, George Foreman and more recently Manny Pacquiao and the Klitschko brothers.  Boxing promoters, managers and the fighters themselves realised a long time ago that without the human drama people tend to lose interest, despite the physical skill of the fighter.

This is where Beautiful Burnout suffers for me.  Although it is visually impressive, beautifully choreographed and the physical performances of the actors are brilliant, there is simply not enough plot or character development to truly hook you into the story.  Sadly, brilliant design and excellent performances will not make up for these things.  

There’s a twist in the story of most of the characters by the end of the play, but I did not have enough emotionally invested in any of them to be really moved.  

Additionally, the two fighters who ultimately face off against each other are fundamentally physically mismatched.  Although a large part of the point seems to be that the fight should never have been allowed to take place, and that nearly all the characters are culpable for the disastrous consequences, the extreme height (and I imagine weight) disparity stretches credibility.  

The play also lacks the surprise element that is so fundamental to what makes watching boxing thrilling.  It’s the moment when one boxer breaks through his opponent’s careful defences, lands the punch that snaps his head back and makes you suck in your breath as you wait to see if he’s out.  Beautiful Burnout, whilst it recognises that moment fails to deliver the knockout punch.

Ultimately, Beautiful Burnout for me was a visual spectacle without much depth. 


Corus March 7th, 2012

(Initially both links took me to Helen Sims' review.)

Editor March 7th, 2012

The review above is by Helen Sims. The link below it will take you to Laurie Atkinson's review. Is that not clear? (I am seeing Beautiful Burnout tonight so cannot comment yet.) 

Corus March 7th, 2012

For me this review (unclear whether it's by Sims or Atkinson) misses the point.  This play gets its intended audience (the young, especially theatre-resistant Scotsmen under 20 - see the company's 'Ignition' program) examining aspiration, discipline, commitment, misogyny, authority, violence, tits and love, mums and family and the true merits of fame & fortune, all in under 2 hours.  This is a profound achievement, so to say the play 'lacks depth' completely misses the point.  What it 'lacks' is sentimentality, unnecessary verbiage, and any pandering to arts festival snobbery which is precisely what ensures its success, that and the brilliant, raw, physical presentation. Playwright and company have met their brief 100%; a shame that 99% of its ideal audience in NZ could never afford to go.

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Fights like dances elevate boxing tale

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 05th Mar 2012

Techno music rattles your eardrums and bright lights dazzle your eyes as you enter the TSB Arena which has been arranged so that the audience is seated on three sides of a boxing ring without ropes. On the back wall are artfully arranged television screens that occasionally show us fractured shots of close-ups of punches, starry skies, domestic scenes, and the glitz and glamour of the boxing world.

The music creates an adrenalin-fuelled tension that is released when the five young aspiring boxers, or as their dictatorial trainer calls them “bloody silly testosteroned teenagers,” start their work-outs, which are choreographed and performed, as are the bouts, with the skill, elegance, and speed of superbly fit athletes.

These work-outs and the stylised boxing fights (at times in slow-motion, at times freeze-framed and performed on a revolving ring) are the highlights of the show, which ranges in style from brief scenes that are almost a documentary about boxing facts and techniques to human dramas about the reasons for being a boxer and the rigorous discipline it imposes on personal lives.

The five aspirants, four men and a feisty young woman are guided, bullied, and disciplined into being amateur boxers with the possibility of turning professional if “God” (the trainer) thinks they are good enough and they adhere to his very strict regime.

The story lines are clichéd: the cocksure boxer who knows better than his trainer, the youngster dreaming of fame and fortune, and the young woman seeking revenge. The most interesting character is a long-suffering mother, who is played with a fine ironic humour by Blythe Duff, as she washes her son’s sweaty clothing and stares into her sanctuary (her refrigerator) realising that if he turns professional the people with the money will demand something in return: blood.

American playwright David Belasco once said that ‘boxing is show-business with blood.’ While there is no blood in Beautiful Burnout there is show-business aplenty: slick plotting and characterization, a “surprise” ending, pulsating music and flashing lights. What lifts it above the ordinary are the brilliantly performed “dance” routines.


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