There is solid work both behind and on stage with this impressive monologue. The script by Ben Fensome is well crafted and the performance from David O’Reilly is bold and dynamic. Director and dramaturge Scott Le Crass makes the most of both writer and actor with a sympathetic and intelligent approach to their talents.
Buff starts as a comedy – quite a light one, even if the character tells us he gets “crude when I’m nervous”. The jokes are sound and O’Reilly clearly has a gift for getting laughs. His role is amiable and irrepressible, despite being dumped by a long-term love and facing fat-shaming from potential partners. A GSOH doesn’t seem to mean much on dating apps. Best of all, his job as a primary school teacher leads to lovely Joyce Grenfell moments.
The real skill comes with changing the tone of the piece to become sad and serious. Fensome gets to show his ability to address issues around the impact of prejudice. Other characters – a flatmate, that ex and a sister – are admirably vivid as they take the brunt of our hero becoming, well, not very nice. Bravely, those depressing dates aren’t played for laughs (that must have been tempting) and with some effective, if simple, ironies we see that superficiality isn’t the preserve of those who go to the gym.
Le Crass handles the alteration in tone expertly, emphasising the show’s careful structure and making the humour sharp. Even those moments in a classroom end up with bite. It all makes great material for O’Reilly, who gives a real star turn. While we never lose sympathy, there are moving moments when we see how unreasonable a character we once liked has become. Buff is highly polished and a credit to all.
Until 19 February 2023