The narrator of ‘Brawn’ trains at a gym in his garage. Shirtless throughout, he inspects his body while soliloquising in front of a full length mirror. We, the audience are the mirror. It’s a neat theatrical trick for, even alone, with his own thoughts for company, this young man obsesses over how he’ll be seen by judgemental onlookers in the outside world. He gave up his membership at the public gym, he confides, because he didn’t like people staring at him.
Christopher Wollaton’s self-penned one act play takes us on a journey through our narrator Ryan’s neuroses. A tall but initially lanky youth, he finds himself ignored by Alice, the object of his affections. Throwing himself into the pursuit of a more aesthetic body, his academic potential suffers as he quits school and then, later, turns his back on socialising altogether in order to focus on his body goals.
It’s oddly voyeuristic to be an audience member at such close quarters as our narrator flexes his torso in the mirror, gimlet eyed. It makes for a strangely uncomfortable atmosphere in the room, and maybe that’s the point. Vanity is a disquieting, unattractive trait, and the narrator is vain indeed, crushed inside by an unquenchable desire to attain the things movie stars and Instagram heroes have told him he should aspire to. In doing so he moves himself ever further from his burning desire to be loved. He is a modern day Narcissus trapped alone with his thoughts and turning away from real life towards idealised images of unattainable masculinity and, ultimately, mental illness. At a time when eating disorders, suicides and steroid use amongst males all appear to be on the rise, this piece confronts some interesting contemporary issues.
At just thirty minutes long, though, it must be said the piece as a whole feels a little unresolved, with the writing at times veering towards cliche. Ryan tells us he’s interested in astronomy, for example, which feels like an excuse to later shoehorn in a clunky metaphor about stars. Yet it’s an entertaining play, and lead actor Wollaton puts in a committed and extremely courageous performance.
‘Brawn’. The Warren: Burrow. Monday 14th May 2018
Also playing Tuesday 15th and Wednesday 16th May