Shybairn’s BURNOUT proves to be a cutely enjoyable experience at VAULT Festival
“Your bamboo toothbrush won’t save us, you don’t recycle it anyways“
It goes without saying that you’re never entirely sure what you’re going to get with a VAULT show and Nicole Acquah’s BURNOUT, sneaking into the Cavern for three late performances, is absolutely a case in point. Two actors introduce themselves – Chloe and Lekhani – and before anyone can get too settled, audience members are asked to help construct the set, in this first instance a room at Cumbrian pub The Goat and Arms.
Only then do Chloe and Lekhani become Bridgette and Amara, whose lives intertwine around the former’s Citizen Rebel movement who are trying to address the climate crisis, particularly as their town has become increasingly susceptible to bad flooding. But this tension is held throughout BURNOUT, the duo frequently stepping out of their roles and encouraging various modes of audience participation, with a varying degree of success.
You can see what Acquah is aiming for, a constant reminder of the emotional labour of any kind of activism and the difficulties in trying to keep the public engaged in a meaningful way. But in the space of just under an hour, it is a bit of a stretch to try and include such involved commentary when the core narrative has barely had time to breathe in and of itself. For Amara’s story in particular is engaging and fresh and you kinda end up wanting a bit more of her persective.
As a young, working-class woman of colour still finishing her GCSEs, it is her journey into activism that drives BURNOUT and as the title suggests, soon disillusions her as louder, whiter, posher, maler voices seek to drown her out and exploit her presence in their group at the same time. The collaborative spirit that Bridgette promised ends up becoming the smallest of flames to try and nurture as the call for small, effective actions get lost in the grandstanding of sweeping but vapid statements.
Caitlin Evans’ production deals well with the wide-ranging nature(s) of the play, encouraging a warm and accessible environment in which we’re happy to chip in and even indulge in a spot of karaoke (a rewritten ‘Imagine’). And Chloe Wade and Lekhani Chirwa are hugely personable as hosts and actors, it is hard to deny them what they ask and that takes BURNOUT a long way. A little refinement in what the play is truly trying to say would take it further.