When I emerged from Beautiful Burnout, the National Theatre of Scotland and Frantic Assembly’s examination of the art of boxing, I tweeted enthusiastically (in twitter language, which as you might know is its own special dialect) something like “awesome!” To my surprise, this created a minor avalanche of replies to @alisoncroggon, almost all of them variations of “Rlly? Shocked!!!!”
Ah, the instant responsiveness of the internet age: it’s twitchier than the skin of a thoroughbred racer. I am long used to being a minority opinion, even a minority of one, but this gave me unusual pause. I had just seen what I thought was a powerful and moving show – it certainly left me in tears - and my interlocutors, none of them fools, were telling me they found it boring, old-fashioned, unengaging and stale.
|Beautiful Burnout: from left, Eddie Kay, Kevin Guthrie and Taqi Nazeer. Photo: Brett Boardman|
I can’t presume to second-guess the other responders, all of whom saw this production in Sydney. Aside from differences in taste, I wonder how much this division of response has to do with the venue: in Perth Beautiful Burnout was staged in the ABC studios in East Perth, a huge unadorned space which allowed the set to function very like that of a real boxing ring.
I also wondered how much these responses have to do with our expectations of physical theatre. Australians do physical theatre exceptionally well: it’s a tradition that stretches back to the early days of Circus Oz and the Pram Factory, and given a particular fillip by the tours of Pina Bausch's dance theatre in the 1970s. In recent years this tradition has cross-pollinated with local dance culture to produce work of astounding quality and variousness. If you think of collaborations like Chunky Move’s Tense Dave, Nigel Jamieson’s Honour Bound, Splintergroup's Lawn or Kage's Headlock, to randomly name some notable examples, it’s clear that much of the innovative thinking in Australian theatre has focused on physical theatre.