Review: Body Talk, VAULT Festival

In its exploration of male body image in the gay community, Full Disclosure’s Body Talk is a valuable addition to the VAULT Festival’s admirable commitment to LGBTQ+ storytelling.  

“There’s only one thing worse than being skinny on the gay scene – being fat”

LGBTQ+ champions Full Disclosure Theatre took on open marriages to tremendous effect with Open at last year’s VAULT Festival, so my eyes were naturally drawn to their entry into this year’s event. David Hendon’s Body Talk takes a look at the thorny issue of male body image in the gay community, asking what happens when you think you’re too skinny, or too fat, or even too hashtag instagay perfect to fit in.

We meet three men, all approaching a significant birthday and all unhappy with some aspect of their appearance, to the point where patterns of self-destructive behaviour are ruling their lives. Carl is a thin guy who is about to turn 21 but can’t stop purging; Cameron and his abs have hit half a million followers on Instagram but on the cusp of 30, he’s not sure how far to go to maintain interest; and Phil is approaching 40 by staring down the end of several bottles of wine a night and bemoaning an expanding waistline.

The first part of Chris Davis and Sam Luffman’s production is the strongest, as intertwined monologues delve into the mindset of each man, biographical detail bleeding into psychological insight, exploring how the challenges of growing up gay can shape so much of later life. Dominic Jones’ Carl, Taofique Folarin’s Cameron and Mark Philip Compton’s Phil all shine here, whether telling their own story or playing supporting roles in each other’s with wry humour.

As connections build up between the trio, the shift into straight drama is well executed, as we see those behaviours previously referred to in a real-life context. And the pursuit of the constantly unattainable is one with powerful resonance – chasing that hot guy or losing that last bit of body fat and not giving a fuck how you get there, there’s always going to be one more thing that means satisfaction proves elusive, especially in a community as notoriously harsh as (some of) the gays.

For me, I could have done without the final flourish. I can see the temptation in bringing all three stories full circle but I also feel like there’s something braver in accepting the messier state of affairs from five minutes before the end, in fully acknowledging the complexity of emotional wellbeing for any and everyone. But who am I to deny anyone their happy ending just because I got the Roland from Grange Hill reference all too easily. A valuable addition to the VAULT’s admirable commitment to LGBTQ+ storytelling. 

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Steve Gregson
Body Talk is booking at the VAULT Festival until 2nd February

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