Reviewed – 16th January 2019
“It’s a powerful performance on a vital topic. However, Brawn’s one-hour runtime feels too long for the concept.”
At school Ryan was bullied for being skinny. He watched the most popular, attractive girls date the athletes with the most muscles. A few years later, working for his dad’s building company, Ryan is bullied again for being weak. He decides his body is the problem, and starts weight training. Once he has the body he wants, he’ll get everything else he wants too. That’s how it works, right? The more toned the muscles, the more interest from women, and the more respect from men.
Brawn, written and performed by Christopher Wollaton, is a one-hour monologue that exposes the male casualties of society’s obsession with body image. Often underreported and overlooked, the issue of men who suffer from anxiety and insecurity about their bodies is very real and can have devastating consequences. Brawn takes a hard look at Ryan’s struggle with body dysmorphic disorder and exercise addiction.
The play finds Ryan at a crisis point. He’s stopped going out with friends (they distract from his training routine), he’s stopped drinking (too many calories), he’s even stopped going to the gym, feeling like too many people are watching, judging, competing. Instead he spends almost all of his time in a makeshift gym in his parents’ garage, where the performance takes place. The set is one chair and two very heavy dumbbells, which Wollaton repeatedly lifts throughout the show.
Wollaton is a hypertense, caged animal. His stamina is impressive as he intersperses his lines with sets of pushups and dumbbell reps. It’s a powerful performance on a vital topic. However, Brawn’s one-hour runtime feels too long for the concept. Wollaton frequently rephrases the same ideas, and there’s very little sense of forward motion. Director Matt Staite may have intended the claustrophobic atmosphere – trapping the audience in one small, sparse space like Ryan’s disorder has trapped him in his mind – but the lack of progression, and that the lines are a lot of the same, makes it difficult to stay invested for the full hour.
Brawn is a thinly-stretched hour that could be a much stronger, higher-impact thirty or even fifteen minutes. Nevertheless, Wollaton gives voice to a scarcely heard perspective – one that absolutely deserves an audience. As a society, we need more stories that bring awareness to men’s mental health issues, also specifically to men’s struggles with body image, and though it could use some editing down, Brawn is one that’s stepping up to fill the void.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Photography by Dann Cooper
The Space until 19th January
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