Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2023 Theatre Review: Buff (Pleasance Courtyard) ★★★★

Recently single and back on the dating scene, Nick finds that fatphobia is rife. Obsessed with the world he views through his phone, and struggling to stay positive, he gradually begins to swipe left on reality.

Pearse Egan in Buff. Photo Credit: Bonnie Britain Photography.

A timely commentary on the pressure to be fit and insta-ready, Buff relies strongly on the rapport that Pearse Egan’s character builds with the audience. Somewhat awkward, and crude when he is nervous, Nick is an endearing protagonist who delivers his story through direct-address conversations with the other characters. Although Egan appears to take a while to get comfortable, the story picks up pace and pathos as we learn more about the relationsips in Nick’s life. He neglects his newly divorced sister, focussing instead on his hot, social media famous flatmate. Eager to get back into dating, particularly now his ex has moved on, Nick throws himself into the judgemental and punishing world of dating apps with damaging consequences.

Pearse Egan in Buff. Photo Credit: Bonnie Britain Photography.

Director Scott Le Crass uses simple, effective staging to keep the spotlight on Nick while Egan’s character slowly unravels. Repeated rejections, homophobic and fatphobic comments begin to chip away at his already fragile sense of self, pushing him to behave in destructive ways. Ben Fensome’s script is both witty and touching, and takes risks with his central character’s likeability as he is pushed into crisis. This is a brave choice for a one-man show that relies so heavily on the audience rooting for Nick, but it pays dividends. Egan’s emotionally raw performance at the end of the piece is deeply affecting, and reflects how easily we can all get obsessed with cyber popularity to the exclusion of real life.

Pearse Egan in Buff. Photo Credit: Bonnie Britain Photography.

Bold, funny and deeply moving, Buff is a searing examination of body image, exclusion and the struggle for self-acceptance.

By Deborah Klayman

Buff plays at Pleasance Courtyard until August 28th 2023.

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