“...have a couple of pints and a shot and you will probably love it.”
Charlie Kenber finds out about a firestorm building outside the National Theatre...
On the 7th, 8th and 9th this September, theatre square outside the National Theatre is going to explode. Well, sort of. To close their summer-long Watch This Space Festival, the organisers have invited Swedish fire-spurting, pain-enduring performance troupe The Burnt Out Punks to send it off with a bang – quite literally. Widely-respected for bringing raucous anarchic spectacle to audiences across the world, the group also fuse music and comedy to create mind-blowing night-time shows.
Now clearly performing such high-octane – not to mention dangerous – feats takes years of practice, but how did it begin? How do you start playing with fire? Performer Ronnie Nilsson (AKA The Animal) tells us “I was a snowboard rider and missed some school and always thought that there was something more to life than sitting behind a desk.” For him, it was the circus that drew him in, “I ended up in the circus basically because I had no place else to go. The idea of working with fire came from the urge of exploring my limits, the visual possibilities and the danger aspect...if I could not control my life then at least I could control the fire.”
Alongside the manipulation of such a dangerous element, the Punks’ show also incorporates fakir pain-endurance techniques – where performers lie on beds of nails or conduct electric currents. Nilsson explains “I like testing my limits and fire and fakir are a good match. In the beginning I liked fakir as people would really sympathise and feel the pain with me as I am very bad at hiding it on stage – yes of course it f***ing hurts, after 15 years of doing it you think it would hurt less! With regards to the fire it’s kind of my expression of the pain that I feel during my fakir numbers.”
At least as crucial as fire and fakir, music is very central to Punks productions, and they bring a DJ with them on tour. “We try to play everything from Lionel Richie to Slayer so everyone gets to hear something they like during the show.” Fellow performer Nalle Laanela (AKA Inferno) would even describe music as “in the blood of the Burnt Out Punks show. It’s what creates flow and keeps the adrenaline pumping in the body of the performance. The music is extremely eclectic but each song has been carefully chosen to both be able to feed the artist on stage as well as trigger the audience.”
This latest show then certainly promises to get the audience excited. The decision to name the performance The Stockholm Syndrome 2.1 comes from the way that the Punks tend to capture the imagination and hearts of often quite cynical spectators. In a similar way, as Laanela explains, “we play with the modern buzzwords of terrorism, freedom fighters etc and look for humorous ways to understand what these terms are that the newspapers are feeding us.” When it comes to the Stockholm Syndrome “since we are from Stockholm and since our audience love us, I guess that figures that it gives us the right to take our audiences hostage…!”
Inevitably, with a performance of this nature, keeping it fresh each year can be a challenge. Therefore between tours the Punks have a new rehearsal period, in order to re-energise the show by altering or adding elements. “We start working on adding any new personal ideas or visions that we have and then we usually bring in an external director to help us fit it all back in together again” Laanela explains. This process of building on previous performances proves deeply beneficial, as Nilsson illustrates, “for three years we have been working with three shows and this is kind of the culmination of those years, kind of like the trilogy finale!”
If you’re still thinking that this may not be for you, then be reassured that the Punks have proven widely popular. “Our experience is that everybody loves our show” Laanela tells us. “The themes of being a rebel, following your dreams and burning s**t are all part of the teenage mythology so a lot of the packaging of the Burnt Out Punks is within that frame work. Basically my view is that everybody has an inner teenager that appreciates the s**t we do.” And if you’re still not sure, follow Nilsson’s advice and “have a couple of pints and a shot and you will probably love it.”
As is the nature of performing all over the world, the Punks receive different responses from their audiences. “So far our favourite audiences have been in Eastern Europe. I think that it has been a combination of the festivals there that have invited us have been very well organized so it’s given us a chance to do very good shows for very big audiences. Also those audiences seem to feel that our show is something that they not only have never seen before but they had no idea it was possible.” Laanela also confirms the importance of this London segment of their tour: “Coming to London is a huge moment for us. It’s the highlight of this summer’s Burnt Out Punks Tour.”
“We have been on our way to London several times but no one has dared to book us until now so we are all super psyched!” Nilsson agrees. “It’s a huge step for us so we are going to really step it up with a few extra numbers just for the London show. We are going to go all out and all in! Hopefully we get to come back to do a UK tour soon!”
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