Vault Festival, London – until 2 February 2020
Guest reviewer: Grace Bouchard
Within the first few lines we are promised “fully clothed catharsis”, and for Cameron, Carl and Phil, this can’t come soon enough. The topics of masculinity and body image within the gay community are rife with misconception and misunderstanding, not least because for decades no one has talked openly about them. Now, in the age of Grindr and Instagram, where men are bombarded with images of washboard abs and profile bios loudly declaring “no fats, no femmes, no Asians”, it’s understandable that gay men are struggling under the weight of the pressure they put on each other and themselves. Cameron, Carl, and Phil want that to change.
As we enter the space, we are met by our three protagonists standing topless on stage, eyeing us up or staring towards the ground. At this point, it is difficult to see what these three men could possibly have in common. Their bodies are very different – one young, tall and skinny, one older and larger, and one so toned you’d not be blamed for thinking he was straight out of the Love Island villa. With each monologue we delve deeper into the root of their issues, baring their souls it takes time to peel off the layers but once we get going, we discover stories of internalised homophobia, shame and spiralling out of control.
Dominic Jones’ characterisation sparkles with self-deprecating humour and uncertainty – everything sounds like a question with Carl. But as the character is a gay, 20-year-old with Bulimia, it’s easy to understand why he might not feel sure of himself.
Mark Philip Compton and Taofique Folarin’s performances are equally engaging and assured; the camaraderie between the performers on stage is a joy to watch. All of the actors entertainingly multi-role in the narrative pieces of the others; Full Disclosure has created an ensemble piece that weaves the characters’ lives together with the sensitivity and playfulness that these subjects require. David Hendon’s detailed script is littered with cultural references for both younger and older audiences, making fun at/with both. He manages to cover an impressive range of issues without making it feel like they have been shoehorned in, and the cast deliver them beautifully.
The play sums itself up nicely towards the end. As we sit lights up on the characters in front of us, Phil reflects that as a gay man: “It’s meant to feel like a community, but it doesn’t always feel like that.” Body Talk will hopefully begin to combat just this, as perhaps the only way to achieve the catharsis we need is simply to talk about our bodies.