Theatre Review: Gym Party

Gym Party by Made in China

Bristol Old Vic – 20th May, 2014

Original published on the Theatre Bristol Writers website

Jess, Chris and Ira from theatre troupe “Made in China,” want their names to stay up in lights, they want you to choose them to be the one to dance with, to love and cherish, but first they really want to prove to you that they deserve your love.

They deserve to win.

They are ready to win.

They have their theme songs, their white gym kits and their colourful wigs and they are going to take part in a series of trials and competitions that showcase their agility, vulnerability and ability to shove as many marshmallows into their mouths as possible, and they are doing it all for you.

The “Gym Party” tests were a mixture of sports day events and hilarious things you attempt when drunk, erroneous, requiring little skill other then determination and perhaps the ability to do the Macarena with a book on your head. The three spoke directly to the audience, continuously interjecting and intercutting, all friends at the start but gradually all turning on each other to win, and that’s when the wigs really started to really come off.

The show was about the nature of competition, the ritual humiliation that comes with losing and how it turns us all into bloodthirsty monsters.

They each told us about a moment of vulnerability in their life. Reliving a moment of shame, betrayal and teenage awakening, which essentially shaped how they compete in life now.

The show was about being true to yourself, not your parents and your friends, but yourself. And how that is nearly impossible.

The lighthearted competition turned to darkest degradation, and the audience was asked to vote on who was the most attractive, who would you kiss and who would you save in a fire? You knew them better now, so you have to choose, and then you had to watch the losers being dressed down. Being told the worst things about their body as they stood semi naked on a plinth. They had let you in, and you had rejected them!

The show was about the nature of celebrity and fame and power, how we are quick to judge others, because we are not faced with the consequences of our judgments.

I have resisted looking up what ‘Made in China’ were trying to say with ‘Gym Party,’ emulating some blurb in order to sound more analytical, and piece together what exactly they were trying to say. Because essentially, they were trying to say a lot. The show was about the performers putting themselves through these tests every night with a different result each time, and no matter how often you might do this, it had to physically and emotionally hurt to be told, in front of an audience, that you have chunky thighs and a terrible personality. The show was about the punishment of failure, the self-flagellation you put yourself through when you fail and it was ambitious, if occasionally muddled, in its undertakings. However Gym party is a very brutally honest piece of theatre, with impressive performances and moments of painful reflection on what it is to compete, and essentially why we all do it.

We all want to be the one you choose to dance with.

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