An amazing treatment of a theme
The visual storytelling in A Gym Thing is intricate and engaging; through the use of simple and sharp blocking and lighting choices, Philip Scott-Wallace tightens the screws on the performances of Tom Vallen, Tarrick Benham, and Bethan James. The whole show is compact and to the point.
The point of the show, its theme, so to speak, is body dysmorphic disorder – a mental condition characterized by an obsessive preoccupation with one’s appearance. From the very beginning Will shows signs of self-centrism and BDD grabs a firmer hold on him with every minute – a python-like attack of an illness on a human. The show largely is the study of symptoms of the condition, of certain behaviors, of common ways the disorder shows itself. It’s as if the narrator of the show is not Will, but the condition itself and even though such a reveal of a theme has its merits and a clear as well as understandable intention, it seems that the characters, and especially Will suffer from it, staying, so to speak, in a limbo of complex psychology. Even though Will narrates everything, we learn very little of his inner world; his descriptions are well written, but his obsessions, the thoughts he thinks and never shares are never revealed to us. As a result it becomes increasingly more difficult to sympathize with Will because we can see that he’s becoming sick but can only see the outside changes – which would probably have been fine had there been no narration.
But the show is an amazing treatment of a theme – a succinct and fascinating introduction to a problem that does not receive enough attention – a comparatively new phenomenon of bigorexia. But it feels like I either came to the second act without seeing the first, or left unknowingly before the second one started. I wanted to go beyond the introduction of the topic. The show left me wanting more. That said, the show is complete – within what seem to be its ambitions everything is achieved; and well made – it is entirely engaging.