After a well-received run at the VAULT Festival, the Ben Fensome scripted Buff arrives at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, taking residence in The Pleasance Courtyard. Directed by Scott Le Crass and starring Pearse Egan (who many will be familiar with through queer rugby drama In From the Side), this one man show sheds light on the story regularly absent from queer theatre.
Plus-sized primary teacher Nick is navigating life after his six-year relationship ends. Nick decides to sublet his flat to a buff Instagram model, growing increasing fixated with his new flatmate. Amidst issues of body image, toxic gay dating, social media and envy, Nick must navigate his own journey to self-acceptance.
Buff takes a slow-burning approach. Nick delving into his life of hook-ups, failed dates and toxic Grindr interactions. Stability comes in the form of his initially single gay flatmate Jamie, with whom Nick forms a loose friendship with, this relationship meaning significantly more to Nick. Within this lens, Fensome’s screenplay delves into toxic fat-shaming in the gay community, social media envy (Nick is fixated on Jamie’s Instagram fame – as well as his buff body), and the spiralling destructive effects of jealousy.
Pearse Egan showcases a masterful grasp of Fensome’s script. With line-perfect delivery, Egan carries the hour long production with an admirable skill. The actor allows us an insight into Nick’s psyche through well-pitched line delivery, mannerisms and stage presence, capturing the teacher’s emotional ups-and-downs. The actor channels his excitement for upcoming dates, his devastation at social media blockings, and his increasingly toxic fixation with his flatmate.
As Nick grows increasingly obsessed with Jamie, the model pushes himself away, Fensome’s script captures the gradual decay of Nick’s life and happiness. His relationship with his pupils at school struggles, whilst appearances of his distant ex at work only tip Nick closer to the edge. Binge drinking, social media rejection and a distant relationship with family begin to take hold, with Egan exploring this with a tense, emotional performance.
Buff delves into the gay community’s relationship with plus sized men and the toxic nature of fat-shaming, as well as societal obsession with the form of the masculine muscled male. The throwaway nature on online dating culture and the damaging nature of expectations set by social media are seen in Nick’s spiralling. Yet even in tackling these challenging themes, Buff presents several moments of impressively structured comedy. Egan has a natural comic ability and even as Nick’s struggles take over, he remains a loveable protagonist.
Director Scott Le Crass stages Buff simply in a stripped back fashion, the sole prop taking the form of a chair. Egan utilises the space effectively, convincing whether transforming the set to a small flat, pulsating nightclub or primary school classroom.
Buff strikes an impressive balance between comic drama and examination of hard-hitting themes of the power of self-worth, toxic gay dating, and the perils of social media. Egan brings this to life with an undeniable skill.
Buff runs from Aug 12-14, 16-21, 23-28. Get tickets here.