Writer: Christopher Wollaton
Director: Richard Weston
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
This play, Brawn, has the perfect body; it’s lean, clean and cut, ripped and shredded. It also has muscles, plenty of muscles.
In fact, sometimes gym-addict Ryan’s muscles are a distraction to the story he’s narrating. Even as the audience files into the space, tight and warm like a makeshift gym in a garage, Ryan is already pumping iron, pushing out press-ups or posing in front of a mirror. The lights go down only when Ryan removes his t-shirt and comes right to the edge of the stage. As well as expected spittle, the front row is also subject to occasional droplets of sweat.
But as well as flexing his muscles Chris Wollaton is also flexing his playwriting and acting skills, offering a totally convincing story of a young man driven to extreme exercise. After being called lanky as a teenager and not being a complete hit with the girls, Ryan decides to exchange brain for brawn in a stunning but disturbing transformation. He’s 80% there, he tells us, but the remaining 20% is elusive.
While this play questions ideas of masculinity in an age where men are objectified in the media and advertising in similar ways to women, Brawn paradoxically also reinforces this objectification as we are instructed to look at the muscles locked under Wollaton’s skin. Men’s health magazines litter the floor of the stage, each displaying images of bodies of which we can only dream. As we watch Ryan’s descent into isolation in his struggle to achieve a Herculean physique, we also must wonder if Wollaton endured a similar journey in his efforts to get the same body for the play. Rather than being a fault, this paradox adds another layer to the complex problems that men face today. Fiction and autobiography collapse here. Wollaton’s performance packs a punch.
Reviewed 4 June 2017