Gym Party

Tue 20th May 2014

reviews

Zack Wellin

at 14:45 on 26th May 2014

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When we see the three protagonists of Gym Party, the first thing that comes to mind is a high school sports day. They are dressed in the traditional outfit of white vests, shorts and matching trainers, each in a different neon wig. It is this combination of the conventional and the absurd which characterises much of the play. We are introduced to three characters, Ira, Jess and Chris, played respectively by Ira Brand, Jess Latowicki and Christopher Brett Bailey, and the play is loosely structured around a series of competitions undertaken by the three contestants. The competitions themselves revolve around some wonderfully executed physical comedy, answering absurdist questions such as ‘who can fit the most marshmallows in their mouth’ or ‘who can kiss the air most convincingly’. In these competitions the characters’ sincere eagerness to win, and dedicated application to the bizarre tasks at hand, is impressively conveyed without any suggestion of pretence. Underlying the burlesque of these scenes is each character’s own personal monologue of current and childhood insecurity, which skirts around typical high school issues of power. These scenes convey an intimate experience of each character, yet lead us to larger questions regarding wider notions of power and dominance in society. This is supported by the format of the play, which is reminiscent of a game show, a medium which is often concerned with reconciling the personal and the societal. The patter of our three presenters comes off sometimes as well-practiced and artificial, yet at others as confidential and profound. The characters are often reminiscent of eager children performing devised shows to their parents, yet there is always an awareness of the more brutal side of power relations. The two coexist quite easily here; at one point we might hear Jess singing us a favourite pop song, at another Chris might remind us of how “we want to grind those around us to dust”. This is interactive theatre, and the audience also take part in these difficult games. On one hand it seems novel that we are able collectively to determine the play’s outcome. On the other, however, it is distinctly unnerving to have our own prejudices held up to us in a mirror. The play deals with the different effects of youthful power struggles in a vivacious and engaging manner, asking powerful questions of both performers and audience. If we were to liken it to anything, we might place it somewhere between Takeshi’s Castle, Mean Girls and Lord of the Flies. If that doesn’t attract you, it should.

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