theSpace @ Surgeons Hall
What makes a man? A simple question, but one that is asked by countless men over and over again, and each finding a different solution.
The solution for Ryan is to work tirelessly in a homemade weights room in the converted garage of his Dad's house, pumping iron to the exclusion of friends, lovers and even work, in a desperate pursuit of an impossible physical perfection.
Christopher Wollaton's one-man performance begins almost comically with several repetitions of him doing press-ups and chest excercises. Finally, he pulls his jumper over his head to reveal a sculpted and chiseled physique, as he flexes in front of an imagined mirror. As he talks, ostensibly to himself, he reveals an all too common story of a young man, lost and confused in emotions, an image conscious world of peer pressure and self-doubt.
Ryan's story is one that will weigh heavily with most men who see it. It's a portrayal of a common man with facets that will ring true to many, whether it be having been spurned in love, or not fitting in with the work crowd; it paints a portrait of a tantalising self-ostracisation into obsession, a self-destructive and almost masturbatory need to improve himself to an unachieveable goal, of being perfect enough to satisfy his own impossible standards as he veers from pitiable self-congratulation to moments of terrified dysmorphic horror at himself.
It's a deep and layered performance and Wollaton manages to coax every crumb of character from Ryan's story, embodying his mannerisms with enough nuance to show the cracks beneath the façade the man has built himself of cord and sinew. By the end of the play, we know Ryan, we understand him and what's more the piece engenders a real sympathy by portraying a form of mental illness that is often overlooked in young men.
And, whilst there are a couple of places where the piece and the action could be tightened up a little, this is an excellent play and a thoughtful insight into the fragility that can hide behind strength.