We sat down with writer and performer Christopher Wollaton to discuss the upcoming return of his solo show Brawn, revived as part of the King’s Head Theatre’s Boys!Boys!Boys! Season. The play, exploring body dysmorphia and mental health issues in men, runs from 16 August to 3 September 2022. Time to get booking!
Can you tell us what Brawn is about?
Brawn is about a 20-something-year-old named Ryan who has locked himself in his garage gym. He works out compulsively and tries desperately to convince the audience that looking muscular and lean is the way to gain respect. As his journey unravels, we discover this attempt for aesthetic happiness is actually destroying his life. It’s a real look at how the media has skewed our view of ourselves. Ultimately, this is a story about male mental health, with a good sprinkling (sugar-free of course), of comedy and workout advice.
Brawn brings you new writing, weight lifting & a full body workout in one show. Exploring body dysmorphia and mental health in men.
A show of physical & mental endurance.
16th August – 3rd Sept at the @KingsHeadThtr
— Brawn (@BRAWN_play) July 28, 2022
Why did you originally write this back in 2017?
As with many actors, it’s hard to get your big break, so I wrote Brawn to create an opportunity to tell a story that I really related to and I felt was important to get out there. Hopefully, people will also relate to the experience of Ryan, as we all (male, female, non-binary people) have a complex relationship with our body image in many different forms. This is just one story that reflects the modern-day world of information and body politics.
Why did you decide to bring Brawn back?
The play has had many successful runs and been well received across several fringe festivals, a UK tour and the King’s Head Theatre. It’s been a huge part of my life and I jumped at the chance to bring it back as part of the Boys!Boys!Boys! Season at the King’s Head. I’ve teamed up with a new director, Elliot Taylor, and producer Zoe Weldon, to help bring this new version to life. It’s been a humbling experience so far and has brought back many memories. Elliot and I have considered the time away from the script as a great opportunity to re-work and modernise it, and we are excited to bring new elements and themes to the play.
The show is about body image and you spend most of the show with your top off. How do you prepare yourself mentally & physically for the role?
The preparation for a role like this is pretty intense. As I am playing someone obsessed by the way they look and in particular how muscular they are, I in turn have to look like the character. This means cutting carbs, heavy workout sessions and some fasting (always fun). It’s a hard thing to do and there’s always the fear of hunger, but the role I’ve written demands it! I wonder if I would have written such a part now, with the understanding of the expectation I’d be putting on myself years later and how difficult it is to go down that obsessive path again.
There is a really interesting dynamic between actors immersing themselves in a role and the audience suspending their disbelief. Hopefully, I get ripped enough for the audience to believe me, but I have to say I cannot wait for a kebab. But just as Ryan lives and breathes this lifestyle, my job is to get as close as possible to this world (without going overboard!). You’ll have to come judge for yourself if I’ve pulled it off…
Join us this summer as we peel back the masc of masculinity in our BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! season.
2 August – 10 September
— King’s Head Theatre (@KingsHeadThtr) July 7, 2022
It must be difficult to be discussing body dysmorphia and then having to put yourself through a grueling process. How do you keep the balance between character & real life?
I still do all the normal things in my life like socialising and will likely switch to a vodka lime and soda over lager. I have a cheat meal once a week so my brain doesn’t fry from chicken. When I first performed Brawn in 2017, I stopped drinking for four months to prepare, but as time went on, I found my cheeky way to bend the rules and still enjoy myself and let my hair down.
What can the audience look forward to in the show?
The audience can look forward to a visceral, immersive piece of theatre in which I will give everything I have on stage. Brawn is blood, sweat and tears, I’ll be lifting weights and compulsively doing push ups… so get ready for a live workout.
Physical demands aside, I ultimately want the audience to come out of the theatre and feel like they understand Ryan and reflect on how they, and we as a society, view beauty. What is really important is how we feel about ourselves and we should feel great without having rock-solid abs.
As part of the Boys!Boys!Boys! season, Brawn runs from 16 August to 3 September September 2022 at the King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, London N1 1QN, with performances at various times. Tickets £15-25.50. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!