Burnt Out review: A dynamic portrayal of a cataclysmic threat ★★★★☆

3 mins read


Penny Chivas, from Australia's Ngunnawal Country, skilfully combined her dance expertise and first-hand knowledge of how fossil fuels are destroying this planet.

This one-woman play of only 45 minutes successfully fills its runtime with as much information as a play of twice its duration.

Penny Chivas, from Australia’s Ngunnawal Country, skilfully combined her dance expertise and first-hand knowledge of how fossil fuels are destroying this planet. She opened the performance by welcoming any Aboriginal and First Nations members of the audience.

There was no set, or elaborate costumes, but Chivas in a white boiler suit.

Throughout this play Chivas leaps, spins, dips, and swoops across the bare stage. Her turbulent and unpredictable movements wordlessly convey the destruction and peril caused by Australia’s colossal coal industry.

Penny Chivas in ‘Burnt Out’. Image credit: Lorna Sim

Chivas also used background music and her own voice to describe how Australia will always be her home and how her father’s research was dismissed by the masses, (including graphs showing temperature rises from as early as 1979).

The play fits Australia’s history with coal as well as its ruinous wildfires. Chivas called out the years of some of the worst ones: 1939- killing 71 people, destroying approximately 1,300 buildings and burning 2 million hectares of land. 1944- killing 51 people, destroying 650 buildings and burning 1 millions hectares of land. 1962- killing 32 people, destroying 450 homes and burning an estimated 1 million hectares.

While Burnt Out expertly used music and song in place of long prose, the most memorable part was the most silent.

For the whole play, a large lump of coal sat on the front of the stage. Chivas slowly approached it and lit a match, watching the flame burn out. She held the lump of coal, retelling how this fuel was mined from indigenous lands and burned to power homes, factories and ironically, air purifiers during the 2020 bushfires. As she mimed fires spreading and choking on smoke, the spotlight on her slowly faded as she dropped to the ground; but the light on the coal still shone. An ominous reminder of how coal will endure, but humanity won’t if we continue to burn it.

Personally, her best use of dance was the moments she would run in a circle repeatedly; a cycle of behaviour, (a sentence Chivas frequently used to describe the cycles causing climate change.)

Within less than an hour Penny Chivas used her fine-tuned skills of dance and singing to show the destruction of coal to indigenous lands, Australia as a whole and the world.

Featured Image: Brian Hartley

+ posts

First year journalism student. From Aboyne, Aberdeenshire but lived in Doha for eight years.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: