Vault preview: Buff

Ben Fensome’s new play, Buff, comes to the Vault Festival, directed by Scott Le Crass and starring David O’Reilly.

After a bad break-up from a six-year relationship, a 32-year-old, plus sized, gay primary school teacher finds he must sublet his flat to a buff Instagram model.

Buff explores body image pressures, jealousy, and the journey to self-acceptance through the world of online dating and social media.

Ben chatted with us to tell us more about the show.

Where: Crescent at The Vaults.

When: 31 Jan-2 Feb, 9pm; 18-19 Feb, 4.45pm.

Ticket link:

Promotional image for Buff

What’s the best thing about being part of a festival like Vault?

The best thing about being involved in Vault Festival is the sense of community, excitement and buzz. You know that watching a Vault show as an audience member, you’re going to get something wild, different and outside of the box.

It’s a place where all forms of theatre, music, stand up, caberet and other performance comes together in an incredibly evocative setting, and seeing and reading up on other companies work makes me really proud and excited to be a part of this year’s festival.

Your show tackles body image, online dating, social media and influencers in the LGBTQ+ space. Where did the idea for the show come from?

The show was born out of a conversation that myself and director, Scott Le Crass had about “Gay plays”: what they are usually about, who they usually represent, and the kind of actors usually cast in them.

We talked about what type of character in the community was being either left out or sidelined and who would be in the scope for us to portray.

I then went away and wrote a first draft and pretty quickly found our protagonist and the characters he encounters.

Body image pressures and social media influencing are themes that are not unusual to LGBTQ theatre, but I was interested to explore it from this man’s perspective.

I was also interested in the idea of the person behind the social media or dating profile persona.

We seem to live in a world where plus size now was average size twenty years ago. Does this put too much pressure on gay men and how they see themselves?

I think it probably does. Whilst it’s important to stress that the pressures men have in general with body image pale in comparison to what women deal with, for gay men there is certainly an aesthetic standard which is constantly pushed on them.

Whether that is through social media algorithms, or even in marketing, the emphasis on what and who has more value or worth gets drummed in very early and even if you may not feel encumbered to meet this “standard”, there are many in the community who do, so navigating that type of toxic culture can be very harmful to your mental health.

That’s why ultimately I want Buff to be a play not only about the consequences of that type of thinking, but also about the journey to self-acceptance, being kind to ourselves and each other.

With Scott as director and David as performer, you have a strong team behind the show. How have you found working together?

It’s been such a dream team. I feel incredibly lucky. Not only is Scott directing, but he has dramaturged the script from the beginning, and so developing this character and the story over these past couple of years with Scott has been such a rewarding writing experience.

Then we have David O’Reilly who is such a talented and experienced actor, I feel we couldn’t get more perfect casting!

Not only does he relate to the character and his experiences personally, but he also comes to the part with a wealth of experience both in the West End as well as comedic parts in hit TV shows.

That means any input he has on restructuring a line to deliver a gag I have welcomed and actively encouraged.

This part is not an easy task for an actor, but he is able to be naturally funny as well as go deep into the more vulnerable moments of the play. It’s thrilling to watch.

With Scott’s production of another solo show, Rose, just announced for a West End transfer, do you see a future progression for Buff beyond Vault?

I really do hope so. Anyone who has read the play has told us how struck they were with it and how there really isn’t anything like it.

That means a lot to me, and so to be able to show it to a wider audience would be amazing.

I’m so proud of Scott with his West End transfer as he has worked SO HARD over the years and truly deserves it.

As for Buff, I’m sure audiences will get the chance to see it post-Vault, in what theatre or where in the country who knows.

For now, I would really encourage anyone who wants to see a funny yet important story rarely seen onstage to come book a ticket to Buff!