‘Gym Party’ (Traverse: 4 – 5 March’14)

Gym Party - production shot 3

Try saving face with your head in a bucket of water”

Editorial Rating: Nae Bad

Created by Made in China for a mental and physical work out.

I see that Made in China has the same optimistic regard for web addressing as Edinburgh49.  Search for this review site and you used to get lots of EH postcodes and street numbers. Search for Made in China and – well, it’s predictable – you get, ‘Your source for Quality Products.com’. Tag ‘Made in China’ with ‘theatre’ and you hit quality stage work.

The company’s Gym Party was at Summerhall during the Fringe and is back for two nights at the Traverse before moving on. In my onetime professional opinion it should play at high schools and colleges up and down the land because this is a show that would fit any ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ and put PSHE (Personal, Social & Health Education) up there in LED and neon.

For S5 and S6 only, perhaps, for ‘Take a bow and get off the fucking podium’ is not, on the face of it, the best lesson for the younger years; although actually it makes perfect (and entertaining) sense and in that all-important cross-curricular sense too. How should we measure achievement? Is it ‘above’ understanding? Are grades better than marks? What counts? How do we grow up: ‘Evolve? Fight or flight?’ Importantly, who cares for the losers? At one time or another we are all on the C/D, Pass/Fail border.

Gym Party is moral exercise. Literally. Three contestants – Ira, Chris’ and Jess (tellingly their real names) – compete for points and for applause.  In regulation 1960s issue PE kit, white singlet & shorts, but with red Converses and vividly mop-headed, they do Games and suffer the results. Ask yourself, age 12, what it took to win and then, in turn, try wacky, awkward, aerobics, and then stuff your mouth with Skittles, marshmallows, and little oranges. It looks daft, is hilarious, but how did you feel with only 17 marshmallows next to the winner, your ‘friend’ maybe, with 22?

Edifying? Up to a point, for sure. Try out for the next round: who, of the three, is the most attractive, the richest, the best kisser, the most trustworthy? Who, the class question, had the best upbringing? Suddenly, you’re not twelve anymore and the playground is not so much fun, especially when failure is penalised. Try saving face with your head in a bucket of water, held under by a fellow contestant.

Adult stretch and pull is all the while provided by extended use of the audience, ‘the group, the pack, the whole’. ‘We’re here for you’ is just one of those exhausted mantras that puts us in the spotlight or under the glitterball of frustration and loss . Actors/contestants look for support, ie. your votes, as they go through their desperate routines. In the confessional rest breaks you just about share their (chewing) gum with the same appalled mix of relief and nerves.

I particularly liked the use of accent: Canadian/New York state (Chris’), NYC American (Jess’), boarding school Home Counties English (Ira) and quizmaster sonorous (anon.).  The natural combination worked a sweet treat in terms of providing the mawkish cheer of game show tv.

Gym Party is fun, energetic and loaded.

nae bad_blue

Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 4 March)

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