Crypt – The Vaults
Reviewed – 29th January 202
“tackles really important issues that are woefully missing from mainstream discussion”
One of the tests for any fringe production is how it utilises the limitations of its own staging. Some productions fight against the lack of wings, the black floors and the white lighting as if they are projecting the play they wish they could have made. Some, however, take these limitations and use them to their advantage. Body Talk, currently running at VAULT Festival, is one of the latter.
Writer David Hendon and Directors Chris Davis and Sam Luffman use the intimacy and bareness of their stage to mimic an impromptu support group as three men, with wildly different experiences, explore and narrate their relationships to their own bodies and how living as a gay man has impacted that. As they tell their stories, they help each other by playing different parts, weave physically between each other and eventually feature themselves in the narratives. This kind of interweaving does a great job at demonstrating the huge complexity and intersectionality of the issue of gay male body image. The AIDS epidemic meets mental health, isolation from family meets social media and alcohol abuse meets eating disorders. Hendon’s script is clear in its message; that without an open dialogue, the gay community can do each other huge harm as these vectors collide.
However, this is very much a performance led by its issue and tailored to deliver a very specific message. This makes the writing quite hammy at times, with characters delivering some lines that sound more like leaflet slogans than dialogue and occasionally seeming more like archetypes than actual people. The final scenes are particularly dense with this as the moral of the story is driven home far more explicitly than it really had to be, ending on a note not dissimilar from an after school special.
Even the most clanging lines, however, are handled admirably by the three actors. Particular note should be given to Dominic Jones in his role as the closeted Carl, battling an eating disorder whilst hating his ‘skinny’ body. Jones gives a nuanced and intensely moving performance. He hits the comedic notes excellently, especially the more physical comedy as he acts out the parts of the other men’s stories. But even more impressive is the depth he gives the often oversimplified camp of his character. Whereas camp is often played just for the humour or wit that sits on the surface, Jones brings out the tragedy and fragility that is actually embroiled with it. His complete reliance on his best friend Becky and his almost compulsive mentioning of her is an aching example of this and is also a common but underrepresented part of growing up LGBT+.
Body Talk is a script that needs a little more polishing before it can flow seamlessly as a performance. However, it tackles really important issues that are woefully missing from mainstream discussion and does so in a clear, impactful way. These are stories we should be seeing on our stages and the cast are convincing as they start to right that wrong.
Reviewed by Cleo Henry
Photography by Steve Gregson