Sunday, 20 October 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Burnout - The King's Arms, Salford.


The pitter patter of rain on The King's Arms' roof could be heard in the main auditorium. An accidental coincidence which complimented the poignancy surrounding "Burnout". Directed by Ethan Boswell-Cranshaw.

It was written by Selina Helliwell who also played the main character, Elise with colourful expression. It's interesting to read that this play started as a two minute monologue and having watched the final version tonight, it feels like it has developed organically over time. Monologues turning into duologues, turning into a full blown play. The script came into fruition when Helliwell was struggling with her own mental health. "Burnout" was good because it was successful in its objective of fighting the stigma surrounding mental health. The writing was authentic, raw, and revealing - balancing its imagery-filled language with naturalistic dialogue.

Plot-wise, it centred around a 24 hour gym featuring the characters: Becky (Briget Uzodinma), Tim (Christopher Sutcliffe), Daniel (Gareth Morgan), Megan (Lana O'Kell), Susie (Mary Taylor), Elise (Selina Helliwell), Jack (Stephen Gidwaney), and an unseen, unheard missing person. Each character had their own demons and issues they struggled with. The main focus was on the love triangle storyline between the overwhelmed Elise, the uber-obsessive and jealous Tim, and the cool Fitness Instructor Daniel. Jack provided much comedy relief in the bleak world of the play, flexing his skinny muscles and acting like a "hard man" to impress the ladies. Think of Quagmire from "Family Guy".
On reflection, the company of actors played their performances effectively to the intimacy of The King's Arms space. Situational comedy and awkward humour showed itself now and then and this was not over-performed - landing rather well with the audience. In particular, Susie's sweetly sinister and oddball humour resonated well. The sporadic soliloquies were a great theatrical device to present characters' innermost and darkest thoughts to the audience. With rhetorical questions keeping you engaged. Although, it wasn't always clear whether they were meant to be delivered in direct address or not. In addition, the evenness of humour and drama worked throughout until the final confrontational scene where, confusingly, the audience laughed at some of the serious moments for some reason. On a lighter note, all of the actors were confident in their roles, it looked as though they've had a lot of rehearsal time to play around with characterisation.

The stage was a 50/50 split between a gym and a reception selling Grenade protein bars. However, when a different scene presented a new location the set pieces were awkwardly covered up with a cloth which didn't work. Solo spot lighting elicited a claustrophobic and vulnerable feeling. Meanwhile the wash of blue lighting was both doleful and somewhat comforting at the same time.
"Burnout" related to the physical, the mental and the emotional here. One of the standout lines in the play was: "Bottling things can kill you". An important message to take away for sure. The setting of the gym actually reinforced the notion that mental health should be seen in the same light as physical health. Say you can't go into work because you're unwell with flu or just had a severe panic attack, both are legitimate reasons for absence, which should be respected. The cast and creatives were clearly proud of this play and what it stood for. So they should be, it was good.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 18/10/19

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