The set of Strong Arm clearly demonstrates that the production has been thought through, all flabby excess stripped away to leave a lean, hard show. The lighting and sound are well crafted but not intrusive, while changes in the setting are indicated by moving the single chair onstage. The filthy mirrors that line the back of the set seem perfectly placed to focus on the greatest strength of the show: Finlay Robertson’s powerhouse performance as a young man who goes from morbidly obese to body builder in little under an hour.
The play’s plot is intriguing and a tad off the wall. Roland Poland, sick of years of abuse over his weight, decides to do something about it and starts a weight training regime that quickly becomes an obsession. While the play tackles ideas that are topical it never becomes didactic, and never suggests there is more to understand than one man’s story. It doesn’t need to; the drama is perfectly pitched, the tension slowly seeping through the audience’s muscles as Roland builds his up to terrifying strength.
It is difficult to believe that the talented actor who takes on the role of Roland Poland is the same man who created it. The writing is superb – Robertson has an excellent ear for dialogue – and is obviously delivered exactly as it should be. Robertson shifts between different characters in such a way it seems strange to realise he is the only one ever onstage. As Roland he even convincingly develops a character whose physical appearance completely shifts over the course of the piece without even a costume change to suggest it. His conviction is absolute and overpowering.
While out of context some of the lines would seem overblown or wacky, within the confines of the theatre Roland’s particular cadences and strange ideas are compelling. Yet Robertson does not compromise to make his character a friend of the audience - or fulfil their expectations - and that decision pushes Strong Arm into the next level.