Gym Party

[author-post-rating] (4/5 Stars)

Made in China’s Gym Party is about winning; it’s about being the person everybody wants to dance with, the best kisser, the richest, the person with the best upbringing, and it’s about feeling really awful when you aren’t. Gym Party is a game and it’s a performance, it’s a performance game and it strikes the perfect balance between performance and theatre. Through ridiculousness and awfulness it makes us question that vital aspect of being human: the urge to compete and be the best and how our society uses this.

Our performers’ names are suspended above them in lurid neon, indicative of the egos we all possess and the urge to make our personalities shine the brightest. Three rounds of contests are played in order to decide the winner of the evening’s Gym Party. The games are absurd and often chaotic, but whereas some performance work can feel totally frenzied this holds the potential to be so but never quite goes there and thus keeps its audience perpetually on edge.

We are in the performers’ control and they, as they repeatedly tell us, are here for us – to give us “bang for your buck”. The show is hilarious but at the same time it’s uncomfortable and disquieting. The knowledge that these people are performing for us, they want to be the best for us, they want to win not for them but for other people doesn’t make viewing easy. Watching someone stand on a pedestal, nearly naked, and have the faults about their appearance spoken into a microphone is mortifyingly funny as long as it’s them and not us.

The whole nature of being part of a group is unraveled as it becomes apparent everyone just wants to side with the winning team and if that means not speaking out when something wrong is happening then so be it. In between the rounds of the game we hear stories from the contestant’s lives, specifically from when they were 12. These, they tell us, are the moments in which they’d like us to picture them; they are the formative moments when they weren’t the best, they didn’t win and they realised they didn’t want to but everyone else wanted it for them. This is a surprisingly raw moment that touches on the truth of our behaviour and it fits brilliantly with the comedic and crazy moments it’s put between.

Gym Party uses all the techniques commonly associated with work that’s performance not theatre; manipulation of the senses through loud music and bright light, audience engagement, the self on stage, delivering text into a microphone, playing with the notion of liveness in the actions performed onstage, deliberately being uncomfortable. It does all of these things and yet it isn’t too frantic, the tone is just right. Gym Party makes its audience think whilst showing them a good time; a truly winning work of performance.

Gym Party has now finished its run at Brighton Festival. For more shows as part of the Brighton Festival, see the Brighton Festival website.