BRAWN at the King’s Head Theatre
“There’s definitely a seed of an idea here, with plenty of potential for empathy and humour”
Writer and performer Christopher Wollaton has absolutely found a gap in the mental health discussion. Whilst there’s a lot of chat about body positivity for women, there doesn’t seem to be much about men, despite society being over-saturated with images of topless hunks with eight-packs, even, as Wollaton notes, the Chris Pratt-types who were supposed to be the clumsy loveable ones. So it’s totally valid and important for male body dysmorphia to become part of the discussion.
But the trouble with a play about someone obsessed with their gym habits is that, by its nature, it’s boring: you can’t socially eat, you can’t go for a drink, you can’t really engage in any extra curriculars. You just go to the gym, eat your chicken and broccoli and, apparently, give yourself very embarrassing pep talks in the mirror.
Which is what we watch Wollaton doing for just under an hour. Nothing really happens because nothing can happen by definition. The point is that his obsession has taken over his entire life, blinding him from the possibilities that might present themselves.
Only a couple of years ago, he was getting good grades in his final school year, he had big plans to study Science at University and he had a crush on his physics partner. But then she started dating the buff school jock, who called our hero a “lank cabbage” and after that, he learned one thing: Girls are only interested in big muscly men.
Since then, he’s pretty much locked himself in his parents’ garage and stared at his physique as he pumps weights, surrounded by aspirational magazine cut-outs and nothing else.
We’re teased with the possibility of a richer life waiting for him: a girl, Becky, keeps calling, worrying about him. She’s recently been encouraging him to go back to school, to reignite his old passions for astronomy. But that’s all kept at bay by his complete and singular focus: his muscles.
With an hour of exposition, and no narrative twists or other characters to jostle against, Wollaton hasn’t given himself much to work with. There’s definitely a seed of an idea here, with plenty of potential for empathy and humour, but after several outings for Brawn, it still appears to be very much still in the making.
Reviewed on 18th August 2022
by Miriam Sallon
Previously reviewed at this venue: