New play about BDD opening soon!

OCD Action recently heard about a new play 'A Gym Thing' opening in London's Pleasance Theatre at the end of April, which will explore the subject of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), and more specifically, Bigorexia. We were keen to hear more about the production and are hopeful that it will help to raise awareness about this extremely important issue, so we asked Tom Vallen, the writer and lead actor of 'A Gym Thing', to tell us more...


"In 2012, at the age of 22, I happily left the structure and military routine of Drama School training - unleashed into an industry that can fool you into thinking it gives so much, whilst actually delivering very little.  Wanting more, the gym soon became the haven of structure and progression that I craved, something you quickly learn a career in acting rarely affords you.

Eager to explore how I could merge this new-found passion with my profession and in an attempt to make it for myself, I cathartically began noting down my semi biographical journey from gym novice to gym enthusiast, excited by the idea and physical challenge of setting the entire narrative within a 60-minute workout!

Inspired by fellow gym heads around me and visually seduced by the meteoric rise of Instagram and Twitter posts, I had endless muses to draw inspiration from… and would unknowingly at the time make comparisons with myself.

A daily gym session soon became gym sessions, a calorific social calendar too easily slid towards a protein fuelled evening of rest and body analysis; letting loose less often with only a vodka slimline tonic.

Upon further research around the topic of gym addiction with my director Philip Scott-Wallace, we realised the lead character Will was just your everyday millennial - pressured to meet what is expected of a man in his twenties. A man who, like 1 in 10 body building gym goers, suffered with Bigorexia or Muscle Dysmorphic Disorder (MDD) (reverse anorexia) – a subtype of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).

BDD is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder that affects both men and women - for those suffering with this, quality of life is extremely poor and, shockingly, suicide rates are amongst the highest out of all mental disorders.

As my training intensity increased, motivated by signs of progression, thankfully I always had my writer’s eye switched on. I could step outside myself, taking any self-deprecating thoughts and feelings, and channel them into the script.


So what if I hadn’t written the play?

What if I didn’t know about Muscle Dysmorphic Disorder?

These questions provided the foundation to truthfully develop Will, to send him further down the destructive rabbit hole of MDD.

You’d be mistaken to think I am casting a wholly negative aspersion towards gym life - it still acts as my retreat of tranquillity, a time out from the hectic nature of London living. However, I now control it, it doesn’t control me. When I obsess about my percentage body fat or I panic over a missed gym session, by knowing more about the disorder it has equipped me with the toolkit to manage my emotions. And from audience reactions so far we know we have helped many others by furthering this conversation around mental health - a feeling which transcends any review.

This disorder is easily overlooked or mistaken for vanity... after all exercise is good for you right? But MDD is rapidly on the rise, it effects people of all sizes and it MUST be brought to the forefront of the public’s consciousness, so that all effected know that help is widely available."

Tom Vallen

(A Gym Thing Writer/Actor/Producer)