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Review of A Gym Thing at the Pleasance Theatre

A Gym Thing - Jennifer Brooke and Tom Vallen -Pleasance Theatre (photo by Boris Mitkov Photography)
A Gym Thing – Jennifer Brooke and Tom Vallen -Pleasance Theatre (photo by Boris Mitkov Photography)

In a world where Instagram selfies, social media followings and “being a public figure” are becoming more common, people see their physical image to be of pinnacle importance. The world of social media has sky-rocketed the healthy lifestyle in exchange for ‘likes’, online gratification and acceptance. No doubt, there are many benefits for going to the gym but we all know some that take their newly-realised regimes too seriously.

It is, of course, then the mental health that ends up taking its toll. Even though gym addiction existed before this time, it is now much more common and relevant than ever.

A Gym Thing focuses less on the social acceptance and more of the distraction people can create through this hobby-turned-addiction. What are we avoiding with this constant need to pump up and improve ourselves? Our main character, Will, convinces himself that his new found love for body fitness is for his girlfriend but there’s much more behind it all.

A Gym Thing, written by Tom Vallen, brings to light the seriousness of gym addiction and Body Dysmorphic Disorder – more specifically, Muscle Dysmorphia. Vallen also plays Will, who addresses the audience in an intense storytelling method played across a 60-minute workout. It is physically impressive and eerily captivating.

Sweat is dripping off our lead ten minutes into the show, but he never tires. His eyes widen with his growing delusion about how he’s doing what’s right and “living his best life”. Vallen’s performance is impressive and the show’s message is abundantly clear about Will’s obsessions and addiction from the start.

Jennifer Brooke plays Will’s girlfriend, Rebecca. Brooke is enlightening and fun as Rebecca, however, the character isn’t much more than someone for Will to bounce off and react too. Our other characters, Jay and Damon are played by Gabriel Akuwudike who shines comedically in his two very different characters.

The set is simple – a gym locker room with simple lighting changes and an ever-moving gym bench. The direction and choreography of Will’s workout are thoroughly thought through but the more stationary scenes lack the same attention and stick out because of this.

Vallen’s a talented writer – there are many throwaway lines that are hilarious and coated in dry, British humour – but sometimes the dialogue stumbles. Particularly the scenes with Will and his girlfriend. Conversations midway through the piece seem to not add much more to the story from what’s already been addressed. Halfway through, you are already asking for the climax of this tale as the tension has been built up constantly from the start. The play may burn out too quickly in places.

This creative piece premiered last year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and has rightfully been revived for its London premiere. It is able to hammer its message to the audience and with a subject matter so relevant, I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t the last lap for A Gym Thing.

3 Star Review

Review by Tomm Ingram

Jennifer Brooke (Hollyoaks, Channel 4; White Gold, BBC2; My Name Is Lenny, Salon Pictures) and Gabriel Akuwudike (The Bisexual, Channel 4; Informer, BBC1; No One Is An Island, Tangle Theatre) join Tom Vallen in A Gym Thing – a powerful Edinburgh Fringe transfer which presents a brutally honest portrayal of the rising health concerns of gym addiction.

Set within a 60-minute workout, A Gym Thing shines a much-needed spotlight on the world of Bigorexia or Muscle Dysmorphia (reverse anorexia) – a subtype of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). BDD is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder that affects both men and women – for those suffering with this, quality of life is extremely poor and, shockingly, suicide rates are amongst the highest out of all mental disorders.

Driven by a daily quest for perfection, Will takes us on a fast-paced, sweaty, physical exploration of how the gym has strengthened and weakened his relationships, his physique and ultimately his life. This complex love story offers a truthful insight into a gym addict’s point of view about body image while offering those who don’t visit the gym a greater understanding about why gym goers strive for perfection.

Writer Tom Vallen
Director Philip Scott-Wallace
Produced by Working Cast Productions and Small Things Theatre
Sound Designer Adam Welsh
Lighting Designer Saulius Valiunas

Will Shaw Tom Vallen
Jay/Damon Collins Gabrial Akuwudike
Bec Harrison Jennifer Brooke

A Gym Thing
Running time 60 minutes
Pleasance, Carpenters Mews, North Road, London N7 9EF


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