By Harriet Purbrick
All photos by John Biltcliffe
[this review contains spoilers]
Last night, the Alec Clegg Studio was transformed into a boxing ring as an all-female cast and crew put on their captivating adaptation of Bryony Lavery’s Beautiful Burnout, proving that boxing has a place in theatre beyond Billy Elliot.
Beautiful Burnout follows the trials and tribulations of a group of female boxers trying to make it pro. Under the tough coaching of Bobby, played with brilliant presence and authority by Molly Anderson, each boxer tries to prove their talent above the rest of their team. The play zooms in on the multiple rivalries between the boxers as well as with their dogmatic coach, including the particularly ambitious Cameron Burns (Lottie Deutsch) and Ajay Chopra (Martine Neang) whose rivalry comes to a head in the climactic fight. Added tension stems from the misanthropic Dina Massie, who received the biggest laughs for her unapologetically blunt comments, delivered fantastically by Carrie Clarke. Equally, the scientifically minded Ainsley Binny (Ginny Davis) added a completely fresh perspective to the script, speaking at times in a prophecy-like manner that provided the story with depth and fluidity, yet derided for her incessantness by the archetypal boxer Neill Neill (Daisy Bateman).
Ajay Chopra (Martine Neang) throws a punch at Cameron Burns (Lottie Deutsch) while Bobby Burgess (Molly Anderson) referees.
The toxic environment of the gym is juxtaposed with Cameron’s mum, Carlotta’s domestic monologues which are confidently performed by Emilie Clark. Carlotta’s recurrent musings acted as a semi-narration and added much-needed insight into Cameron’s backstory. Clark showed incredible range, portraying Carlotta’s initial sass and later heartbreak.
Emilie Clark as Carlotta Burns
From the stage set-up to the lights and music, the performance was totally enthralling. The production team (Caroline Rauch, assisted by Daisy Bateman) created a two-dimensional boxing ring on the stage floor; its white surface was also the perfect blank canvas for creative projections throughout the play. In terms of lighting, this was my first experience of strobe in a theatre setting and it didn’t disappoint. Thanks to the lighting designer, Kayleigh Corbin, a red strobe – saved for the final fight – simultaneously heightened its drama and beauty. Music too was used to further immerse the audience. From the hip-hop soundtrack of the boxing gym to a melancholy piece from the Social Network soundtrack, the songs perfectly reflected the mood of the scenes.
The audience was able to enjoy the boxing ring up-close thanks to the direction team (Lucy Yellow assisted by Grace Conway and Harriet Ormston) ingeniously placing the audience either side of the stage in an intimate, profile format. Clarke and Clark relished this set-up with their eye contact with members of the audience in their monologues. Moreover, a boxer was directly placed in the audience whilst they watched the final fight – not only did this add to the overall intimacy, but practically speaking, it also kept the boxing ring entirely clear.
The realism of the boxing was further enhanced by the input of the boxing choreographer, Harrison Hirst. The cast performed genuinely believable boxing sequences, while the choreography of the final fight was particularly fluent.
Dina Massie (Carrie Clarke) jokes with Cameron Burns (Lottie Deutsch)
Aside from a couple of minor fumbles over stage entries (which can easily be put down to the inexperience of opening night) my only gripes with the play were with Lavery’s script. The two halves were rather imbalanced: the first was purely introductory leaving all the plot and drama for the second half. I would also like to have seen more of the romance between Cameron and Dina. Nevertheless, the cast and crew’s execution of the script was exemplary.
Overall, Beautiful Burnout is a deeply creative production, acted by a talented cast that transforms you from the rivalries of the boxing ring to its tragic consequences.
Beautiful Burnout continues its run at the Alec Clegg Studio at 8:30pm on Friday 11th March and Saturday 12th March, including a Saturday matinee performance. Tickets are available here.