Review: Gym & Tonic

Roz Hammond.

Gym & Tonic
By Roz Hammond
3.5 stars
The Blue Room Theatre


There's a case that the most genuine stage hit of the last year was the awkwardly titled 51 Shades of Maggie Muff at the Subiaco Arts Centre. It was extended at least twice, drawing ebullient crowds almost entirely comprising of women.

Call it what you will but this genre of middle-brow theatre (Amanda Muggleton's The Book Club and other projects are the brand leaders) clearly strikes a chord with women who identify strongly with the stories, the humour and, importantly, each other - hence an almost conspiratorial connection between the performer and audience.

Such a beast is Roz Hammond's Gym & Tonic, the tales of five women, all played by Hammond, who attend classes at a suburban community gym.

Their stories are often about motherhood and its pitfalls: the selfish son who's ended up in the family court battling for custody of his children, leaving their grandmother desperate for brief contacts that are often denied her; the morbidly obese daughter whose mother blames herself for her child's condition.

Most touching of all is the migrant from India forced to leave her children behind with their grandmother while she and her husband work to raise money to bring them over.

Hammond calibrates the mood of her show carefully, with a light, funny opening, involving a way-too-hip gym class instructor and a tentative first-timer, gradually deepening and darkening as we see into the women's lives.

At times the characters have a Kath & Kim anachronism, and the unavoidable lack of interplay between them is a limiting factor but Hammond is a sparkling performer who holds our attention and gains our sympathy as her stories unfold.

Gym & Tonic is an unusual fringe show but that's no crime, and has the potential to find an audience away from the tents and pop-up theatres. Neither is it typical of its genre - there's almost no bawdiness, for example - but that shouldn't stop it appealing to the same audiences that flock to Muggleton and Muff.