This is stunning. Literally and metaphorically. Cameron and Ajay are wheeling around on a raised, revolving boxing ring, beating the living daylights out of each other with right and left hooks.
Ultimately, one of them has to fall in Beautiful Burnout, the National Theatre of Scotland's new show which – co-presented by Frantic Assembly – is palpably going to be a big hit at this year's Edinburgh Fringe.
Writer Bryony Lavery's drama about aspiring boxers was dealt a blow before it opened, because the Royal Court Theatre got in first with Roy Williams's Sucker Punch (reviewed in June). Williams's and Lavery's scenarios are remarkably similar: each starts out in a training gym, run by an autocratic coach, and builds up to a prizefight between ex-buddies. But Beautiful Burnout knocks the socks off Sucker Punch, proving to be a far more full-blooded physical-theatre piece.
As choreographers-turned-directors, Frantic's Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett push well beyond air-boxing. Their high-energy and agile ensemble, including Ryan Fletcher as the avidly ambitious Cameron and Taqi Nazeer as the authority-challenging Ajay, really pummel each other with sharp jabs and upper cuts. This, surely, is the closest that dance-drama will ever come to the contact sport itself.
Lavery is on top form too. Her technical-cum-sociological crash course in boxing weighs up its pros and cons as an underdog's career move. She humorously and poignantly weaves women into the group portrait: one ferocious teenage lass (Vicki Manderson) and one long-suffering mother (Lorraine McIntosh). And while tracing the divergent life-stories of the club's hopefuls – either going stellar or crippled by disappointment – this piece also combines experimental narrative structure with earthy, documentary-style voices.
The show's creative team have designed a multimedia backdrop that is both vibrantly pulsing and poetically expressionistic. The air throbs with hectic drumbeats, courtesy of the band Underworld. On a giant bank of TV monitors, a sweat-spattered black glove pounds in and out of focus, glittering like a star-spangled night sky.
This show already has a tour scheduled, including a mid-September London run at the East End's famed boxing arena, York Hall, in association with the Barbican.
Meanwhile, Traverse Theatre punters can themselves embark on a mini-tour of Edinburgh, on their own and on foot. Devised by the company One Step at a Time, En Route is an audio-guided promenade. Following instructions received primarily via your mobile phone and a supplied iPod, you wend your way through back alleys, tucked-away council estates, and an eight-storey car park. I love the fact that this show leads you off the beaten track, past derelict warehouses and a seedy sauna, under a gloomy bridge, then to a breathtaking view of the Firth of Forth. The element of treasure hunt is also fun, especially when it goes low-tech, with notes hidden in shops and mysterious strangers waiting for you on street corners.
It is rather thrilling, wondering whether One Step at a Time have got you constantly under surveillance (your phone rings if you miss a turning). And you're extra alert throughout, watching every loitering local as a potential theatrical encounter (though you don't stare too hard at the pimp on the sauna doorstep).
I am not an all-out fan of this emergent genre – MPThreeatre, or whatever you want to call it – because the pre-recorded soundtracks are, all too often, irritating. En Route obliges you to listen to pretentious prose-poetry and piecemeal philosophising – about love and loneliness – backed by hip but not especially location-sensitive music. Nonetheless, with all its ups and downs, this is an enjoyably quirky adventure and one you'll not forget.
In Traverse's studio theatre, Shared Experience (in association with Cardiff's Sherman Cymru company) are back exploring their favourite theme of repressed females with mad, bad or dangerously wilful alter egos. This time around, Speechless is based on Marjorie Wallace's book The Silent Twins, dramatising the tragic true story of two black sisters whose parents emigrated to post-war Britain from the Caribbean. Instilled with prim English values and expecting a warm welcome from the motherland, the family encounter racial prejudice, and give up any attempt to integrate. Viciously bullied at school, the pubescent twins turn obdurately introverted, speaking only to each other and growing increasingly delinquent. They cling so fiercely to each other emotionally that their gentle, liberal child psychiatrist can neither cure nor prise them apart.
Polly Teale's production is intensely intimate, with quietly superb ensemble acting, played out around a grim steel bunk bed. Natasha Gordon and Demi Oyediran as the sisters are surprisingly funny, holed up in their bedroom re-enacting royal weddings and jubilees with dozens of pink plastic Sindy dolls. But they are also deeply disturbing and psychologically complex, standing stiffly in their matching grey blazers, glaring mutely ahead, or fighting each other ferociously in a near-incestuous tangle of limbs.
Traverse's own new commission, While You Lie by Sam Holcroft, is pretty disappointing. Ana (a perfectly trim Claire Lams) is an East European émigrée working as an office dogsbody. Obsessively unhappy about her body, she demands perpetual reassurance from her boyfriend; then, busting up with him, she decides to whore herself to her lecherous boss, in return for promotion. His homely wife finds out and is horrified. Almost everyone ends up desperately seeking reassurance from a chilly, groping, but supposedly charitable plastic surgeon who, absurdly, performs a Caesarean with a kitchen knife at a barbecue.
Zinnie Harris directs all this on a chic white set, and her cast cope admirably. But While You Lie is a very bumpy ride from Naturalism to Surrealism, jolting between man-hating and a sudden romantic ending.
'Beautiful Burnout (0131-556 6550) to 29 Aug and touring; 'En Route', 'Speechless' and 'While You Lie' (0131-228 1404) to 29 Aug
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