Playbill Pick: Buff at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe | Playbill

Playbill Goes Fringe Playbill Pick: Buff at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

The fearless and raw story of a plus-size gay man’s desperate struggle for acceptance in a world that demands physical perfection is unabashedly brave and moving.

Pearse Egan in Buff Bonnie Britain Photography

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, with nearly 3,500 shows. This year, Playbill is in Edinburgh for the entire month in August for the festival and we’re taking you with us. Follow along as we cover every single aspect of the Fringe, aka our real-life Brigadoon!

As part of our Edinburgh Fringe coverage, Playbill is seeing a whole lotta shows—and we're sharing which ones you absolutely must see if you're only at the Fringe for a short amount of time. Consider these Playbill Picks a friendly, opinionated guide as you try to choose a show at the festival.

Dating in the modern world is hard. But add in ever-growing plethora of dating apps and an endless array of social media feeds and it’s easy to feel like you don't stack up. In Ben Fensome’s solo play Buff, recently single schoolteacher Nick has recently returned to the dating scene and let’s just say…it’s a struggle.

When I read the description for Buff, now playing at Pleasance Courtyard, I must admit that I was apprehensive, if not a bit triggered. A show about a fat, fem, gay man maneuvering the hurdles of dating in a big city while coping by online jerks, his own self-loathing, and pressures to fit in a very slim box, felt a bit too close to home. However, I’m always complaining about plus size representation, so I went despite my initial fears. And wow, I'm so thankful I did.

Buff tells the story of Nick, who after breaking up with his partner of six years, has recently rented out the spare bedroom in his London apartment to Jaime, a muscular Insta-gay (aka a gay man who posts a lot of shirtless/semi-nude photos to Instagram). We see glimpses of Nick's life through direct-address conversations between Jaime, his grade school class, and the occasional Grindr or Scruff date. It is through these moments that we learn about the dating apps' rampant fatphobia, Nick's constant self-deprecation, and his obsession with comparing himself to people on social media. As Nick’s friendship with Jaime grows, so does his feelings for him. With every small morsel of attention that Nick receives from Jaime, the Adonis, his need for attention and longing to feel wanted grows.

Pearse Egan in Buff Bonnie Britain Photography

Exploring the pressure to meet the beauty standards put on gay men, Buff soars thanks to its clever and heartfelt script, and a beautiful performance by Pearse Egan. In a topic that could easily go heavy, depressing, and preachy, Fensome’s script and Egan's portrayal are a perfect pairing. You quickly fall in love with Nick through his quirky stories and lovingly nervous and energetic personality. And when Nick devastatingly spirals and hits rock bottom, your heart easily breaks for him. Egan is masterful in his ability to effortlessly shift from light and bubbly to his raw and vulnerable performance at the end of the play.

Too often in film, TV, and stage, plus-sized gay men are pigeonholed into the same one-dimensional roles. They are the closeted bully who doesn’t know how to express their sexuality, or the flamboyant, funny fat one of the friend group. And whatever role they're given, these characters are rarely (if ever) shown as being the subject of any other character’s sexual or romantic interest. I cannot tell you how refreshing it was to see an unabashedly brave and moving story about a plus-sized gay character on an Edinburgh Fringe stage. This play and Egan’s performance is a theatrical memory I won’t soon forget.

Buff runs at Pleasance Courtyard's Pleasance Below through August 28. For tickets, click here.

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