A Gym Thing at the Pleasance, London is a vivid exploration of muscle dysmorphia and how it can affect all around
“It’s all for you”
Mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes, literally so in the case of A Gym Thing, which focuses on muscle dysmorphia where bigger isn’t always better. Bigorexia or reverse anorexia is a subtype of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, affecting both men and women who get caught up in extreme behaviour at the gym, in a never-ending quest for perfection.
Tom Vallen’s play uses the device of a 60-minute workout to tell its story, a vibrant method of storytelling which works well in the intimacy of the Pleasance (the play was a success in Edinburgh last year). He plays Will Shaw, who mixes squats, lunges and lifts with the tale of love, life and loss shaped by the gym addiction that takes over his every waking moment.
And it is a clear-sighted, uncompromisingly frank take on the subject, which wisely steers clear of moralising or taking a view on the never-mentioned condition. Vallen shows us the shifts and changes in Will’s personality, emphasised by the reactions of friends (Gabriel Akuwudike) and girlfriend (Jennifer Brooke) and ultimately vivid indeed, as the play winds to a shark climax.