"Get Back on the Treadmill!": Actual Success and Theatrical Failure in Pony Cam’s BURNOUT PARADISE

Coming off their ‘Best in Theatre’ Fringe win last year for Grant Theft Theatre, Pony Cam’s new show Burnout Paradise amusingly harnesses their success to explore the precarity of expectation, and the porousness of actual and theatrical failure.


The 2023 Fringe Hub at Trades Hall is a hive of activity. Dozens of staff and volunteers man the bars, entrances and exits. Each day, late into the evening, the many spaces in and around Trades Hall rapidly turn over artists and audiences to keep up with their tight schedule. The shows, some of which have seasons lasting just a few days, bump in and out in a matter of hours. For $15 at the Box Office, you can take a lucky dip from the slew of performances on the precipice of commencing at any given time. Coming off their ‘Best in Theatre’ Fringe win last year for Grant Theft Theatre, Pony Cam’s new show Burnout Paradise amusingly harnesses their success to explore the precarity of expectation, and the porousness of actual and theatrical failure.

Staged on four treadmills labelled Survival, Admin, Performance, Leisure, Burnout Paradise condemns four members of Pony Cam to the futile task of running and getting nowhere. To side-stage the fifth member Ava, who is strapped into her computer like a baby swaddle, runs tech, sales and works on her thesis. She is too busy to train for the show, immediately falling short of another–though unmarked–category of everyday tasks: health and wellbeing culture. The aim of the game is to complete a litany of tasks and collectively run X kilometres, a goal that increases from each previous best. So, on Wednesday’s opening night performance it was eighteen and a half kilometres, close to a half marathon, in 40 minutes. From up on the balcony, the space is like a stadium. The lights stay up; we peer down on bobbing heads as the running group warmup pre-game. The attention demanded by the performance diverges from theatre’s traditionally silent, still, cerebral engagement to the selectively attentive eyes and ears of a sports spectator. The audience is encouraged to get up, move around, buy some merch, use their phones and–if you’re feeling generous–help out the performers by distributing props, ingredients and research.

Like a sports game, the energy of the performance plateaus as each quarter unfolds (10 minutes duration), peaking at the word “Go!” and final countdown–although the performers must give at all times if they have any chance of success. In between cheers we stretch, drink, whisper. There is an element of chance not only in Pony Cam’s ultimately success or failure on the night, but also in what you will see. With five or more competing points of attention at any given time, you’re just as likely to miss the most exciting moment of the show. As the tiring legs of the performers chase the indefatigable motion of treadmill, thumping steps form the baseline of a chaotic soundscape. It is an unfamiliar rhythm in the theatre, however the spontaneous highs of entertainment and lows of disappointment earnestly reflect the precarities of working in the arts. The simultaneous action of domestic labour, bureaucratic hoops, professional performance and self-care in Burnout Paradise–all whilst atop conveyor belts that threaten to shoot the performers off stage–delivers a spectacle from the mundane.

Ironically, Leisure carries the team on the distance front. It’s easier to run while taking a RAT test or painting your nails than while cooking a three-course meal or writing a grant application. An audience member shouts “Risk Assessment Matrix!” when Dom asks for a response to the required segment ‘How will you ensure the safety of participants?’. Dom has never heard of a Risk Assessment Matrix, and Pony Cam definitely didn’t include it on their application for Burnout Paradise, where one rogue foot could send boiling pasta water across the stage. The precarity of the set and the show’s outcome hyperbolically externalises the fraught psyche and body of the individual, who in the real world must often take responsibility for these tasks alone.

The theatre crowd is finally indulged in the penultimate moments of Burnout Paradise with a 2000s throwback dance sequence before the final distances are tallied. This uplifting denouement cushions the affective impact of potential failure as the performers and crowd learn the upshot of their exertions. Opening night closes with the sense that there is still gas in the tank, leaving the burnout promise of the title somewhat unfulfilled. However, performers’ hesitancy to push from effort to exhaustion also attests to the limitations concomitant to actual and theatrical success, as the company faces a gruelling Fringe season–ten shows in twelve days. The cast of Burnout Paradise may not have burnt out yet, but there’s still nine shows to go. 


Burnout Paradise is showing at the Trades Hall Fringe Hub in Carlton until 22 October. 

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