The various shades of carbs and the misfortunes of consuming beer and milk, the philosophical implications of weed, homicidal fantasies, masturbation, Clarks and pink Geox shoes – Alasdair Linn’s original play The Buffa follows a series of eccentric exchanges between two waiters as they watch the customers at an all-you-can-eat buffet eat their night, and occasionally their manners, away.
The Buffa is named after the male waiter’s mispronunciation of his workplace – The Buffet. From cyclical dialogue to meaningless conversations and unexplained bouts of physical theatre, The Buffa is a play which revels in absurdity. The Beckettian influence is palpable; much like in Waiting for Godot, The Buffa is a play where nothing happens, twice. The second act is an amended replay of the first, highlighting the distressing stagnation of modern existence. Yet, unlike in Waiting for Godot, the characters aren’t waiting on somebody; the 21st century does not leave room for hope. The characters are stuck in a swamp of boredom with little hope of escape.
The audience is welcomed by two black tables, decked in white table cloths and the dried-up leftovers of customers’ meals. The slightly repulsive sight of shriveled chips and stale baked beans prepares the spectator for a play which tests their tolerance of disgust through recurrent scatological humour and detailed accounts of customers’ nose picking, arse scratching and horrible breaths. Sex and various forms of bodily fluids seem to be the preferred topics of conversation for the waiters, and a rare source of entertainment still granted by a stagnating existence. The characterisation was convincing: the more placated tone of Harry Berry’s character balanced out Philomena Will’s manic energy, while their personality clash created a sense of friction suggesting the impossibility of human relationships. I particularly enjoyed how Alasdair Flinn explored the breakdown of communication between the two characters. Conversation was always dominated by one character, who at most times failed to talk to their counterpart, preferring to talk at them, therefore plunging the characters, and with them the spectator, into an overwhelming sense of irremediable alienation.
Philomena Wills and Harry Berry’s performances were exceptionally well-crafted and both actors injected a welcome source of entertainment in a play which could have easily turned tedious. Their performances movingly highlighted two characters torn between the absurdity of their life and a desire for meaning. A special mention should be given to Philomena Will’s exceptional performance which delightfully juggled multiple voices, bringing to life a character a little schizoid and, if at first somewhat unpleasant, ultimately endearing.
Yet, for all its excess, the play fell short of fulfilling its potential. The pace at the beginning was slow, as the audience watched a slideshow of images (a cocktail of pretty much everything from burgers to the Big Bang) on a TV destined never to be used again in the play. The staging exploited physical theatre, although occasionally the reason for such choices was unclear. Along with strobe lighting and the use of high-pitched sounds, The Buffa was scattered with directorial choices which, if arguably thought-provoking, seemed to suggest little other than a desire to exploit absurdity for the sake of it, a flaw which the writing was guilty of as well.
While the concept of the play is intriguing, and undoubtedly thought-provoking, it seemed to want to make a statement for the sake of it. Philomena Wills and Harry Berry’s performances, however well-crafted and entertaining, could not save the play from writing and staging which felt avant-garde for the sake of being avant-garde and unnecessarily self-indulgent.