BRAWN is a fascinating play about obsession. Or to be precise, body dysmorphic disorder. An overwhelming desire to look body perfect, even at the cost of relationships and careers.
Written and performed by the perfectly formed Christopher Wollaton, it is based around Ryan who spends most of his time in his Dad’s converted garage lifting weights and doing hundreds of press-ups.
All rather sweaty and all somewhat impressive. Twenty press-ups, monologue, twenty more press-ups and not a puff or pant to be heard onstage. Just the sound of Ryan taking a gulp of water and a tiny trace of sweat trickling down his forehead. Wollaton is not just a good writer and performer. He’s also one fit young individual who will make anyone in the audience feel body conscious (I was constantly holding my stomach in).
Over the course of an hour, we learn why Ryan is so body obsessed. It stems from rejection at school by a girl with whom he shared a love of physics, the stars and the solar system. It puts him on a road to physical perfection in the hope of being recognised, admired and fancied. Vanity rather than sanity rules.
It is all rather sad as he relentlessly pumps iron in splendid isolation, eschews alcohol and friends and in between consumes mountains of chicken and broccoli. It’s a state of mind that causes him to stop working for his father as a builder (Mum seems to have long fled the nest).
More pertinently, it fractures a burgeoning relationship with Becky before it has really begun. Nothing, it seems, will be allowed to get in the way of Ryan’s determination to never again be called a ‘lanky cabbage’ (a nickname given to him at school). All he wants is to look good and be a ‘sexy beast’.
Ryan’s monologue flicks back and forth like his sit-ups. In between the focus on obsession, there are some clever lines, especially those that link Jake’s love of the planets and physical perfection. For example, he talks about his quest to bring into his ‘gravitational pull’ as many women as possible.
But ultimately, there’s an underlying sadness to Ryan’s story. In his pursuit of body perfection, he literally sacrifices all – and not even a whiff of a gold medal at the end of it all to prove the sweat, blood and tears have all been worthwhile.
Brawn, directed by Matt Staite, is eminently watchable. But more Obsession than Brawn. Catch it if you can as it tours the country over the coming months.