A Gym Thing, Pleasance Theatre

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by Laura Kressly

Will is having a rough time so isn’t inclined to leave his Playstation. His worried mate Jay convinces him to join the gym with him, in the hope that it pulls him out of his funk. Unknowingly, Jay creates a monster. The gym gives Will not just new-found purpose, but triggers an addiction that totally transforms him from quiet and shy into a vain, self-absorbed and destructive force.

This is writer Tom Vallen’s debut play, and it’s a fairly solid one. The short, episodic scenes are juxtaposed with moments of narration, some of which aren’t necessary in their over-explaining of Will’s emotional life. Vallen nails the gradual change of Will’s character, though. From one scene to the next, they are almost imperceptible. But comparing the Will at the start of the play to the Will at the end, he has undergone a remarkable, if tragic, journey.

Vallen plays Will opposite a laidback Gabriel Akwudike as Jay. The contrast between the two fosters some nice moments of tension, and there’s a warm intimacy between the actors. Jennifer Brooke plays Beck, the object of Will’s affection. The trainee accountant is a fairly bland character lacking in specificity, though she has some great moments of conflict with Vallen.

Director Philip Scott-Wallace endows the production with verve – Vallen rarely stops moving and is soon slick with sweat. By the end of the play, he looks like he fell in a pool. Though the movement serves to prevent stagnation, the pace is relentless. More weighty moments aren’t given enough time to settle into their gravitas.

The issue of Body Dysmorphic Disorder in men is a worthy theme for a play, and Vallen’s script presents it without veering into didacticism. With a more developed ending and a bit of breathing space within the scenes, this is a play that could have a power that matches Will’s punches.

A Gym Thing runs through 13 May.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

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