Ryan was a bright lad at school. He should have done well. He could have successfully made it to university and followed a fairly traditional career path. Instead, his mind was taken over. It was a relatively trivial incident that started it. He had a crush on his classmate Alice, made more difficult by being seated next to her in lessons. He was probably going through the adolescent growth spurt at the time. One day Alice's boyfriend, the hunky school heart-throb, made a quite catchy comment about Ryan's beanpole physique. It probably raised some laughs and would likely have been dismissed as juvenile name-calling. Dismissed by everyone, that is, except Ryan. For him it was life-changing.

Its subject matter is little-known, but this exploration will surely help in raising awareness of the condition

Dysmorphia usually starts in adolescence, affecting boys and girls roughly equally, but muscle dysmorphia is far more prevalent in boys. There can be various causes. Even something as simple as an act of verbal abuse and bullying can trigger a potential lifetime of obsessive behaviour focussed on the perceived physical flaw. In Ryan's case he abandons everything to achieve the body he's been told he doesn't have. Even when he has clearly achieved a stunning level of muscular fitness, the 80% he keeps referring to, he dismisses it in pursuit of the remaining 20%. Of course, he will never make an inroad into that. Mentally he will always be stuck at 80/20.

We enter Ryan's converted garage, which has become his workout studio, the floor littered with fitness magazines, and see him pumping his way through one extreme routine after another. What’s immediately obvious is his commitment to fighting his way through the exercises. What becomes apparent, as he relates his story, is that the real battle is with his inner demons. As the house lights dim, his top comes off to reveal a body any rational man would be thrilled with. He compulsively looks in the mirror at his buff, defined, muscular body, only to repeat the 80/20 mantra.

He often charges around his cell alternating frantic exercise with revelatory exposition. He's pretty much stopped going out and his best mates are his weights. With dysmorphia, social activities decline, self-esteem goes down and the only sense of worth is from devotion to the path of perfection that, in theory, will ultimately eradicate the physical inadequacy. In reality that road is endless.

In Brawn, writer and actor Christopher Wollaton gives a commanding, tormented performance of remarkable physicality and mental turmoil. Under the watchful direction of Richard Weston the pair have created a captivating and thought-provoking piece of theatre. Its subject matter is little-known, but this exploration will surely help in raising awareness of the condition. Maybe if James could see it he would wish he had never spoken, but since when did a bully ever show concern for his victim?  

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

‘Brawn’ is a portal into the world of a young man named Ryan; a world consumed by image and obsession, where self-worth is measured in muscle mass and where self-improvement becomes self-destruction. A world that is spiralling out of control...