Boys In The Buff – Drayton Arms Theatre, London

Reviewer: Sonny Waheed

Writer: Chris Burgess

Director and Choreographer: Robbie O’Reilly

Ever since the opening chords in Where Do I Go? from hippy-musical Hair, there’s been a fascination with nudity on stage. Where many productions have managed to use nakedness to deliver narrative impact, such as Hair, Angels In America, or Equus, others have taken a more direct approach to use the titillation of nudity purely to attract attention and audiences.

Boys in the Buff falls, like a sack of festive coal, in the latter category. The title leaves very little to the imagination and, from the opening eponymous number, you’re in no confusion that this show is focussed on getting the cast naked. To try and give a rationale for such focus on nudity, there’s a very flimsy narrative to try and tie the whole thing together: the cast are about to put on a show which involves them getting naked but this sets them off on a journey of body image issues that need to be addressed before they’re able to ‘do the deed’.

Initially, you’d be forgiven for thinking you wandered into an amateur production of Cabaret. We open to show’s emcee, Diana (Katarina Zofia), channelling her inner Sally Bowles, sexily and sassily introducing us to the evening’s entertainment. In sequinned bowler hat and jacket, we’re introduced to four male performers giving their best Fosse moves and singing a swing jazz song.

From here the show takes a series of musical and narrative twists and turns to get us to the much-proclaimed denouement. On hearing that they’re all going to be getting naked sets of a range of emotions through the cast. Phil (Louis Van Leer) is petrified at the idea which appears to be focussed purely on below-the-belt comparisons. Dan (Aaron Wood), a self-proclaimed exhibitionist is thrilled by the idea, and is the first to strip off his clothing, though not quite all the way. Gym-bunny, Max (Aaron Blackburn), has flash backs to his ‘fat’ days and tells us that gym saved him. Finally, and in a rather out of place song, Richard (Samuel Howe-Barrett) gives us a song about how he was so traumatised by being circumcised that he underwent foreskin restoration therapy.

From this point the show meanders through a range of songs about body shaming and personal image reflections. The aim appears to be that by acknowledging these, they’re able to address them and build up the confidence to bare all. The problem here is that the cast have addressed their respective dysmorphia by feeding into them… the fat boy goes to the gym, the spotty boy has laser treatment, and the circumcised guy  has his ‘restoration therapy’.

Whilst there’s some serious subject matter covered here, the songs are written and played for laughs, but fall flat when performed by four fit good-looking men… though maybe that’s the point of dysmorphia, it’s not how others see you but how you see yourself.

The flimsy narrative aside, the show is unfortunately encumbered further by some lacklustre performances. Zofia and the emcee does her best to delivery Jessica Rabbit sultriness, but her performance is too self-aware and feels laden and, unfortunately, unsexy. The rest of the cast throw themselves into their respective parts, but the quality of the vocals is mixed, and the flat delivery and limp text fail to redeem the show.

Throughout the show we are continually being told that everyone will get naked and when it finally happens it’s sexless, joyless and, in the case of this production, senseless. It lasts like many a misjudged sexual encounter for less than 60 seconds and leaves you feeling shabbily unsatisfied.

Reworked for a 10pm cabaret show, with a relatively boozed up audience, this show could have some potential. But as it stands, it fails to deliver on the titillation, nudity and comedy it so proudly promises.

Note: Several performances of the show are clothing optional for the audience, so please check which show you are booking, if this is likely to be of concern.

Runs until 09 January 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

An unfulfilling tease.

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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