‘Comedy without crassness, heart without histrionics’
‘Nakedness is uncomely...Therefore set it down: That a habit of secrecy is both politic and moral.’ So said British statesman and philosopher Francis Bacon. And it is not untrue that the British are somewhat known as prudish, downright squeamish even, when it comes to nakedness. We certainly tend to be the coyest lot in the changing rooms on mainland Europe where nudity is indulged in, in a way we simply cannot comprehend. So, when going in to review Boys in the Buff, I went in with some of that good old British timidity, but also determined not to let my own insecurity about nakedness affect my enjoyment of the show.
To my surprise and delight, my worries were entirely unfounded. Our MC for the night Diana Diamonte, played with humour and sass by Shani Cantor, introduced us to her boys and assured us this was a class act, it was in fact an ‘educational mission’. They were going to give us the naked truth about bodies and with that they launched into their first number: ‘Does my bum look big in this?’
The show was filled with fantastic songs, spectacular dance, and brimful of tongue in cheek humour. Despite the small stage, the boys and Diana had a polish to their performances which was engaging, and it was clear from the start we were watching very skilled performers.
Although humour and naked bodies was the backbone of the show, the heart of it was still very much beating. Songs like ‘Dancing in the Semi-Nude’, ‘Time for Audience Participation’, and ‘Porn’ (never have I seen such skilled porn shadow puppetry, and I doubt I shall ever see the like again), were riotous good fun. But there were also songs that tackled the darker side of body image; songs about bullying and the trauma it can cause, and about loving someone for exactly who they are, these were moving and highly affective numbers that stopped the show from being purely farce. The combination of rakish comedy and heartfelt sharing about body self-esteem made the show incredibly inspiring; and I admit I did get swept up in the whole thing. I wrote in my notes at one point how proud I was feeling of my body. And even if that only lasted the duration of the show, it’s a start, right?
Each performer in the company was highly skilled and brought something different to the show. MC Diana (Shani Cantor) was brazen, brassy, and incredibly easy to like, especially during the ‘I hate the gym’ number. She worked well with the boys, giving them encouragement when they needed it, and keeping them in line when they stepped out. Adam Mroz as Dan gave body (wow, the body) and played up the idea of hypermasculinity, he felt like the rugby playing lad of the group. The antithesis of Mroz’s character was the effeminate Richard, played by Daniel Timoney. Timoney’s voice was particularly remarkable, as was his dancing. An all-round strong performer, he could however occasionally allow his face to go a bit blank during the numbers. Eli Caldwell played the nervous, modest Phil; the most reluctant of the boys to bare all. He was easily likeable and probably the most relatable with his worries about his body and the anxiety of getting naked in front of a room full of people. The last of the boys was Max, played by Adam O’Shea. The definition of a triple threat: strong acting, dancing and singing, O’Shea smoldered his way through the show giving face, body and voice. His striptease number, performed while reciting Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ was a particular highlight.
This was one of the things that played on my mind in the show though, the boys looked like models. They looked like they all spent a lot of time in the gym. It was difficult sometimes to feel totally connected because in my head it was like: ‘They literally have nothing to worry about, look at them!’ But then that is the point that the show makes, everyone, no matter how beautiful they are, has issues with their body, it’s a universal truth.
I was slightly taken aback when the show started, and it became clear they were using a combination of live singing and pre-recorded music. I would’ve personally preferred that they mic-ed up the boys and sang it all live. It took some getting used to. After some research though I found out that this was a cut down version of what was a full show. The pre-recorded voices and the slightly weak narrative arc made complete sense. As this was the concert version, everything had been scaled right down.
Chris Burgess has written a truly great piece here. Comedy without crassness, heart without histrionics, and something that really does affect the audience. Praise must also be given to Robbie O’Reilly who choreographed the phenomenal dancing in the show. I absolutely thoroughly enjoyed having my British shyness about nudity blasted out the water, and being given a reminder about how great bodies really are! I feel that the full show would be even stronger, and I would love to see it in its full length. But the night was still enjoyable and without a doubt this show requires commitment and courage from all its performers. They met the challenge and then some, and for that I applaud them.
BOYS IN THE BUFF
Directed by Adam Scown
Music and Lyrics by Chris Burgess
The King’s Head Theatre 25 Nov – 9 Dec 2017, 11 Jan – 3 Feb 2018
Verity Williams is a poet, actor, playwright, dog enthusiast and committed gin drinker (not necessarily in that order). Born and raised in Dorset, Verity has a BA in English and Drama from Royal Holloway, an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa and an MA in Acting from East 15. @Verity_W_