Review: Buff, VAULT Festival

Ben Fensome’s Buff explores a different perspective on LGBTQ+ life at VAULT Festival

“Apollo’s belt? More like Apollo’s muffin top”

On the one hand, there’s something gratifying about the number of gay plays around these days, particularly here in London. On the other, there’s something depressing about the number of them that rely on toned, shirtless torsos for their marketing imagery. Recognising this, writer Ben Fensome, director/dramaturge Scott Le Crass and performer David O’Reilly offer up Buff as a welcome corrective. 

At the heart of this play is a gay primary school teacher in his early thirties, who is reeling from the collapse of a 6-year relationship and who happens to be plus-sized. Needing to get a new flatmate and wanting to re-enter the world of dating, there’s a rude awakening waiting for him which precipitates an emotional maelstrom from which it isn’t immediately clear he is going to escape from.

Fensome’s writing is acutely well observed. In a world so driven by outward appearances, fatphobia should come as little surprise but the multitudinous ways in which it can hit are painstakingly evoked. Particularly brutal are the range of responses that he gets whilst trying to hook up and sometimes even after hooking up; matters aren’t helped by his new roomie being a buff Instagram model who he can’t help but crush on.

The cumulative, deleterious effect of all this results in an explosive breakdown that leaves no-one unscathed – friends, family, even pupils – and O’Reilly delivers it with a punishing, self-lacerating honesty. Part of the beauty of the writing is that as he’s not portrayed simply as a victim of societal pressures, he’s spikily complex in all his interactions and so it clear he has his own emotional growth to do as well. Not an easy watch but a powerfully compelling one nonetheless.

Running time: 60 minutes
Buff plays VAULT Festival 18th-19th February

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