As soon as I turned the corner I heard it. A bass line that shook the floor and messed with my heartbeat. The room was dark but for the flickering lights that illuminated a small, square stage. While the rest of the nation sat glued to Strictly Come Dancing and the X Factor, I entered a dark and dangerous world. A world of violence, damage, fear and despair.
And what’s more, I had paid for the privilege.
The music pulsed through the floor as I made my way down the stairs to my seat. It felt like being twenty-one again, standing on a podium in a packed nightclub. I clutched my respectably small glass of red wine and sat down. A wall of flashing video screens behind the stage bombarded my eyes with images of bodies, numbers and boxing gloves.
For an introductory sequence, this was utterly thrilling.
Beautiful Burnout, written by Bryony Lavery, was brought to Northern Stage by Frantic Assembly and the National Theatre of Scotland last November. I went to see it at the last minute after reading a Facebook message from an old school friend telling me that it was extraordinary. I can’t thank her enough for the push.
We all know that television isn’t just reality shows. It can be brilliant. Especially when either Sir David Attenborough or Hugh Bonneville are involved. We know, too, that the cinema can leave you open-mouthed – but there is something extraordinary that happens when you are at a theatre.
To see people moving in the harmony that only happens after months of rehearsals, to marvel as they become someone else, someone new and someone real. To watch the words on a page come to life. I knew I was entranced by Beautiful Burnout when I realized, a good half an hour into the play, that the woman on the stage in front of me was not just the downtrodden single mother of an aspiring boxer on the mean streets of Glasgow where the play is set. She was also ‘Miss Hooley’, the primary school teacher who always wears green and has bobbed hair, from the CBeebies children’s show Balamory.
This woman had been in my front room for years, and now here she was, a few feet away from me, dressed in cheap leggings and a baggy grey sweatshirt with her hair scraped back, fighting for her son and considering “the best washing powder to remove sweat – and blood”.
For ninety glorious minutes I was transported. I felt afraid, aghast, astonished and amazed. I laughed, I cried and, when it was all over, I stood up by myself and thumped out the loudest applause I could muster.
Stepping out into the freezing cold night air outside the theatre, my mind whirring with the final scenes, the world seemed a little bit brighter, a little more alive than it had two hours before.
Thank you, Northern Stage, for an amazing night. No X Factor required.
by Katherine Wildman © 2013
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