Performance review: Burnout Paradise, Pony Cam Collective, RISING Festival, Malthouse

A frenzy of tasks performed on treadmills – but to what end?
Three men and a woman are standing on treadmills. They have their arms in the air.

Burnout Paradise came with high expectations, as the show had picked up rave reviews from audience and critics alike during its run at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Pony Cam Collective has even won awards for its work. However, this reviewer walked away underwhelmed and confused.

The premise is simple: running on a treadmill for an hour-long show, completing a list of increasingly bizarre tasks, all the while trying to beat a collective best number of kilometres run or risk the audience receiving a ticket refund. *Spoiler alert, on opening night, they failed.

It felt as if parts of the show had been seen before and the resulting effect was no more than a pale pastiche of other, greater works.

One of the stronger narrative strains – if you could call it that – was the premise that a three-course meal would be cooked and served to two “lucky” audience members by the end of the show. While it was not performed on treadmills, Crunch Time by Counterpilot also worked with food and a similar level of audience participation back in 2018.

Other tasks performed while running on treadmills included shooting hoops, performing Eisteddfod dance numbers and writing a grant application for Charles Sturt University. All in all, the physicality echoed past Melbourne Festival shows seen over the last decade. In particular Burnout Paradise reminded me of 2019’s High Performance Packing Tape by Branch Nebula, but to lesser effect.

The audience here were whipped into a frenzy as they were drawn into the madness and asked to assist the four performers with their tasks. Their stage presence and ability to tell a story were undeniable, but was this art?

Of course, art is subjective and, yes, the physical effort was impressive, but was Burnout Paradise of the same calibre as other shows presented during this RISING Festival? The simple answer is no.

We saw shows that combated climate change, and others that tackled murder, rape and sexual assaultWhile it’s true that not all art has to speak to the bigger picture, right now with the world in an increasingly dark death spiral, maybe it does? 

Read: Music review: Yves Tumor, RISING Festival, The Forum

If only this production had spoken more strongly to its title, because aren’t we all just a little burnt out these days? But what did it actually seek to challenge? Or was it merely a stocking filler in a program that was otherwise weighty and thought-provoking?

Presented by Pony Cam Collective and Parrot Ox, Burnout Paradise was performed on 13-15 June 2024 at the Malthouse as part of RISING Festival.

Jessi Ryan (they/them) has been creating performance and exhibitions for the past 20 years, both locally, nationally and abroad- in this time collaborating with a huge number of artists from a broad cross section of cultural backgrounds. As a journalist they have written for and been published by some of Australia’s leading arts and news editorial across the last 10 years-and was recognised as a finalist for Globe Community Media Award in 2021. Ryan has also taken photos for a number of print and online publications.