Friday the thirteenth is often thought to be unlucky. If that’s so, I must be doubly cursed, for this thirteenth of July falls on a Thursday and yet I have just had to sit through one of the most interminably long shows of the year so far, in spite of the fact that it lasts only ninety minutes, and the running time includes a twenty minute interval.
Boys in the Buff is an under-rehearsed, under-resourced, poorly written, cliché-filled piece of quasi-entertainment with such shallowness and venality that it gives gay theatre a bad name.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude. I thought there was actually an interesting point to be made with Naked Boys Singing, and a lot of the songs were top notch. And, as a gay man myself, I’m certainly no stranger to seeing plenty of flesh on show at Above the Stag, and elsewhere.
However, Boys in the Buff is so convinced of its own one-trick-pony brilliance that it singularly fails to bother addressing the elephant in the room: the writing is nowhere near as good as it evidently thinks it is.
The cast of five – the queen, the gym-bunny, the chav, and the shy-boy (all remarkably close to being their ideal weight), kept in check by the Rubinesque ‘Big Hearted Mama’ (Natalie Harman, who deserves better than this) – battle bravely to make everything seem hilarious, touching, or even – gawd help us – ‘deep’, but more often than not the exercise leaves you with the feeling of being at a party where everybody else seems to be having a good time apart from you.
Don’t get me wrong, there were audience members who, through booze, filial relationship, or the thought of the amount of money they could possibly be about to lose, were almost literally rolling in the aisles. I wasn’t one of them.
In spite of billing itself as ‘a new musical revue’ Boys in the Buff appears to be, wholly or partially, a revival of a show from 2007, and if that is the case I wonder someone hasn’t tried to fix it. Though the answer may come from the fact that book, music, and lyrics are by Chris Burgess, also responsible for Sleeping Arrangements (Landor, Clapham, 2013 – saw it. Book didn’t work) and Devilish (Landor, Clapham, 2014 – saw it, reviewed it. Book didn’t work. At the time I wrote… ‘Even when emotion does rear its head it’s so superficial as to produce laughter from the audience at its presence.’ You get the idea).
In a more accomplished pair of hands the concept might have been enlightening, entertaining, or even titillating. In Burgess’ hands much of the show was just embarrassing, degrading, or actually offensive, and yes, I really DO mean I was offended. To have a man made of solid muscle, tight skin, and with no discernable body fat (Adam O’Shea, great dancer, nice voice) stand centre stage and tell you (as his character, Max) that he used to weigh twenty-two stone, but through hard work and gym-going is now only eleven, is nowhere near credible, and – as a life-long fattie like me will attest – just not funny. In fact, I’d call it body-shaming. ‘You too could look like me, if only you weren’t so lazy…’
The choreography and direction work in parts, but everything is under-rehearsed and scrappy, like a quickly thrown-together skit in a boozy student union. I can only wonder what must have been going through people’s heads at the production meetings. My guess is it was something along the lines of ‘it’s only for the gays, and they’ll put up with any old rubbish for the sight of a bit of cock at the end’.
…And that, dear reader, is what is known as exploitation.