Review by Stephanie Lee
CULT launches it audience straight into the world of wheatgrass shots, weights, ellipticals and squats as the work explores the cut-throat world of self-improvement. It’s funny, real and non-stop from start to finish.
Set in the Potency gym which Alex signed up to a year ago after being dumped by his boyfriend for his ‘love handles’, CULT by Ryan Henry is a campy, yet painfully honest reflection on the ever-continuous journey to our ‘best selves’. Jumping between Alex’s inner critic, gym sessions and monologuing, CULT follows Alex (Ryan Henry) in his quest to join the ‘top tier’ gays and finally make his ex regret dumping him. The solo show running for about 50 minutes is witty, clever and perfectly captures the incredibly human need for approval from others and more importantly ourselves.
The understated set consisted of gym equipment and a couple of mirrors working well to support the non-naturalistic movement between memory, reality, fantasy and reflection. Each item- the elliptical, the weights, the skipping rope, the mirrors- not only evoked the sweaty reality of Alex’s quest to make it to the ‘top tier’ but also each represented a step up the ladder towards the top.
Sound by Jack Burmeister added plenty of humour to the work from the aggressive voice of Jason (god of Potency gym) screaming at Alex to the upbeat track of Physical by Dua Lipa blaring for a skipping sequence. Most impressively the sound was incredibly well-timed, allowing a natural back-and-forth with Henry as a performer.
Lighting by Ashleigh Basham and Justin Heaton was perfectly camp with a dramatic flair. The transitions between moments were punctuated nicely by clear lighting state shifts, making it easier to track the flow between Alex’s inner-critic and happenings in the gym. I particularly enjoyed the flashing cross lights during the skipping sequence, which was wonderfully nightclub like.
There were many thoroughly enjoyable moments in the show and an abundance of queer references appreciated by the audience on opening night. Although at times a little too expositional, the work did make some thoughtful commentary on body obsessed culture and modern society’s obsession with ‘being your best self’. The realisation that your best self is forever out of reach, is something worthy of reminding ourselves and this show is a love letter to trying (which, yes, does include sometimes failing).
Henry himself is also a talented performer, flicking neatly between performance modes and keeping the audience engaged the whole time. It honestly isn’t easy to hold an audience as a solo performer but Henry manages to through earnest asides and high-energy physicality.
Running until Saturday 11th of February at The Meat Market (Stables), CULT by Ryan Henry is camp, fun, enlightening and incredibly relatable if you’ve ever struggled with that little voice telling you that you’ll never be good enough. This solo show is definitely worth checking out if you want a feel good, light-hearted, energetic watch!