A Gym Thing

Wed 2nd – Mon 28th August 2017

reviews

Louis Harnett O'Meara

at 16:47 on 14th Aug 2017

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Director Philip Scot-Wallace handled a powerful drama concerning the addictive qualities of the male quest for bodily perfection, with Tom Vallen at the helm as body-obsessed young Will and a down-to-earth performance from Tarrick Benham as his supportive friend. Bethan James was less impressive in her delivery of the role of Bec, the character seeming altogether flat. Whether this is the script’s or the performer’s fault it is hard to tell. Though Vallen seemed the better suited actor to play the lead role, Banham’s performance generally felt less clichéd, and his lines were delivered with a dry wit that was entirely absent in Vallen’s ingenuous delivery. However, this lack of self-awareness in his character turned out to be essential; bit-by-bit it was exaggerated to great effect as he went further and further down the rabbit hole of self absorption and insecurity.

The beginning was a little slower than the rest of the show, eventually warming up to fast-paced physical theatre. It was no wonder that Vallen had managed to keep himself looking trim – the show was a workout. He was soaked in sweat by half way through the performance, committing to runs and reruns of a heavy routine that mesmerisingly displayed the physicality of the obsession. The performance was a somatic spectacle to behold; strong choreography drove a series of routines that exhibited the serious physical determination that was required to offer a convincing enactment. It was a laudable effort from Jess Tucker Boyd as physical director.

The script followed a balanced arc in its trajectory, and its final descent was a gripping plunge into darker and darker themes. The ending was thought provoking, uncomfortable and sadistically satisfying - managing to toy with the audience expectations and affections with a cruel ease. The show’s conclusion did a good job of preventing the performance from seeming too cheesy – which I was conscious threatened at a few points. Although at times it lacked a little subtlety in the acting and the script, the impact of the performance by the conclusion of the show was more nuanced than the sum of its parts.

Although I’m far from a gym-goer myself the treatment of the subject was accessible to any audience. It conveyed an important message through an engaging, simple story, and allowed anyone to identify with the obsession that had gone too far. Altogether, well worth a watch.

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Neil Suchak

at 19:26 on 14th Aug 2017

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‘It’s a Gym Thing’ is a captivating depiction of masculinity and relationships as it portrays the lengths to which once can be driven by their estimation of their appearance and self worth. The play - written by Philip Scott-Wallace - explores the story of Will: a seemingly unassuming man who undergoes a transformation as he embarks on a process of hitting the gym and bulking up. It is a play that is as much about addiction as it is anything else as we see Will (played by Tom Vallen) descend into a dangerously obsessive state. This is not just a play about someone who likes the gym a little too much but someone who allows obsession to destroy the relationships he holds dearest. This discussion of body dysmorphia is a particular welcome and necessary conversation especially within the area male mental health.

The performance is carried by the complex and nuanced portrayals of the four characters: each of which is masterly depicted by the three man cast of the play. In a play that is so focussed on physicality, there is a notable lack of props which serves to emphasise the high standards of physical theatre on display by Vallen and Tarrick Benham (who plays both Ravi and Damon). Both succeed in convincing the audience that although there are no weights in their hands, they are indeed undergoing agonising physical strain. Despite this the cardio workout that both endure is immense - as the levels of energy that they exert causes Vallen to end the performance positively sodden in his own perspiration. On top of this Vallen also succeeds in drawing the audience into his personal journey from timid laziness to an obsession with fitness and physical appearance that delves into the realms of mental illness.

Special praise must be given to Benham who plays two separate characters and does so with style and slickness - crafting two portrayals that may be both wildly different, but also still nuanced. Firstly is that of Will’s gym buddy Ravi and secondly Bec’s work colleague Damon. Bethan James’ part as Will’s love interest Bec is subtle and nuanced as she manages to match Will’s shifting character with an ease that makes her portrayal wholly convincing. Her demeanour shifts from one of loving devotion to that of concern and sadness as Will succeeds in pushing away all those around him.

The close of the play is well written and gritty, as it serves to illuminate the depths of degradation to which mental illness can take you. Overall the play succeeds in acting as a welcome contribution to a conversation about mental health and does so with fine dramatic effect.

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