EdFringe 2018 Review: Brawn


Brawn examines the concept of masculinity and mental health through the story of Ryan (Christopher Wollaton, who also writes) – a young man desperately obsessed with achieving physical perfection by building his muscle mass.

In something of a patchwork fashion, Ryan recounts his high school experience and insecurities regarding his ‘lanky’ physique and comparing himself to more physically impressive boys. This stigma would follow him into his work for his father’s building firm, until Ryan realises that mastering his physique and working out make him feel better. However, we see the obsessive dedication that Ryan places on physique, whilst he struggles to function in other areas of his life.

Brawn is an intelligent and entirely relevant look at the pressures and expectations put on men to conform to unrealistic ideals of physical perfection. Tapping into the impact of social media, Hollywood and the pressures of the new social norms (Ryan makes several comparisons to everyone being ripped – yet his main points of reference are Chris Hemsworth or Ryan Gosling). Brawn recounts Ryan’s struggle to maintain romantic relationships, balance work, and have a social life, due to his obsession with working out. The play gives appropriate build-up to this by drawing light on Ryan’s insecurities from his youth through unrequited love and comments from masculine, more alpha-males.

The result is that Ryan has become something of a monster in his obsession with achieving perfection. He runs out on stage throwing out the contents of his pockets before launching into frenzied push-ups, weight lifting and exercise with an unsettling focus. He notes this is something that women find desirable and what fellow men admire and respect, yet grows increasingly manic as the play develops. Yet Wollaton has crafted a complex character here and Brawn reveals glimmers of Ryan’s former self – as he describes the joys of his new relationship or recounts bonds in his past, we see the traces of humanity under the bulking machine.

Wollaton’s performance of Ryan is excellent. At points animalistic in his ferociousness to become an Adonis, this complex turn reveals the humanity underneath all the biceps, triceps, quads and abs as he unknowingly recounts the struggles that lead to this problem. This incredibly emotive turn in which we see Ryan as partially his own enemy in his obsessiveness, but also a victim to the onslaught of mainstream media, social media and advertising that tells us men should look a certain way.

Brawn is an emotive piece on mental health - particularly in regards young men - that deserves to be seen thanks to its intelligent central performance and the impressive handling of its all too relevant themes.
Theatre Review 7032759076067426776
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