Writer: Nicole Acquah
Director: Caitlin Evans
As the VAULT Festival draws to a close, possibly for the final time, it’s worth reflecting on its purpose as a place for young theatre companies to experiment, try out ideas and have the space to fail. ShyBairn Theatre’s 60-minute piece Burnout written by Nicola Acquah is just that kind of experimentation, a show that has a lot of ideas that definitely requires a space like the VAULT where it can see which ones work and how the structure of its climate activist narrative is received by an audience.
Following a damaging flood in her neighbourhood, 16-year-old Amara happens across a climate protest organised by Bridgette, a university student who works in a local pub. Tempted to come along to the meetings, Amara is soon frustrated by the philosophical approach the group takes to environmental activism, hoping that small-scale contributions will make a difference, but none of them want to actually help Amara’s community to properly protect itself.
Burnout has a lot of different things to say, a show that while written by Acquah feels as though it has been developed by committee. There is a discussion of the platitudes that focus on helping plants and animals over people suffering the physical effects of climate change, there’s a racism angle in which Amara’s image is appropriated to suggest the Citizen Rebel group are a diverse organisation, and there is a class dimension in which the local pub landlord focuses on middle class solutions to working class problems.
Mixed in with all of this is a meta-theatrical approach in which two actors set out to stage Amara and Bridgette’s story, taking an interval of sorts and interrupting the story at various points to hop out of character. It creates opportunities for audience interaction, getting individuals to help build sets, singalong or even participate in the story but it’s not a device that is ever explained. The logic perhaps is to negotiate the boundary between the passive and active experience but there is a lack of clarity about what the obvious staginess adds to this story.
It also weighs down what could be a sprightlier plot with long intervals between activities that distract from the overall point of Burnout. In one sequence the actors complain that having only 60-minutes to tell a story puts too much pressure on them but when the lights go out unexpectedly soon after, they waste a good proportion of that time doing nothing, having a rest and waiting for them to come back on while hosting karaoke to an adapted version of Lennon’s Imagine.
Performers Chloe Wade and Lekhani Chirwa are engaging performers, enjoying the comedy aspects of Burnout and the fourth-wall breaking engagement with the audience, but the show itself has too many ideas and doesn’t do enough with its central message. But then the VAULT Festival is the place to try their show out and discover what works. Let’s hope some version of this Festival still allows performers to do that in the future.
Runs until 19 March 2023