What do buffet staff think about as they watch you stuff down your fourth plate of chicken chow-mein? Maybe they’re questioning why anyone drinks cows’ milk when it’s clearly not for humans. Or maybe they’re fantasising about locking the doors and stuffing a grenade into your sundae.
Set against the endless monotony of a high street all-you-can-eat buffet, The Buffa sets out to answer that very question. Harry Berry’s character enters first; an ominous, silent presence who looms to the side of the stage as the audience watches a slideshow of images in the dark. This introduces a series of disconcerting, surreal episodes that occur throughout the two acts of the play, as intermittent bursts of strobe lighting and eerie dancing accentuate the friction between two characters who take a bizarre pleasure in driving the other up the wall.
The sinister undertone of the play is established before the main characters even enter, with discarded plates of uneaten chips and nuggets left to fester before the audience’s eyes. These – coupled with two tables, a washing-up bowl, and a TV – are the only props. You stare at the characters, they stare back. The barrier between the audience and the characters collapses across the two acts of the play, leaving us with an uncomfortable insight into their psyches. The starkness of the performance space seems to leave the characters vulnerable but, by the end, it is the viewer who feels exposed.
While it’s tempting to focus on the disconcerting and surreal aspects of The Buffa, a line of comedy runs through the play which helps to maintain an air of relatability about characters who, however absurd they may seem, are never irretrievably unrealistic. Philomena Will’s waitress was superbly acted and especially well-written, reducing sections of the audience to laughter throughout the piece. Humorous moments give the characters a sense of depth that makes them more than just tools of reflection.
Perhaps it’s accurate to say that The Buffa raises more questions than it answers. Clarity and plot are not at the forefront; instead, the piece is an investigation of minds at work in a mind-numbing environment, and all the contradiction and repetition that entails. Regardless of its disposition for the surreal and the shocking (watch the trailer to get a taste of that), The Buffa’s investigations of human relations are, quite genuinely, food for thought.