By Carmel Shortall
Toby and Jess are trying for a baby and have the whole procedure down to six minutes and an excel spreadsheet. Furthermore, Toby isn’t allowed alcohol or caffeine and can’t wear anything tight. So the problem’s with him then!
Having achieved their six minutes and put a pizza (not a bun!) in the oven, the two prepare for a guest who, it transpires, has only two months left to live. Xav is Jess’s best friend from when they were five years old and he is dying of a brain tumour that makes his shoe smell of lasagne and his favourite pickled onions taste of vomit. He plans to leave a legacy – not just a financial one, though that too – he has had his sperm frozen and he wants Toby and Jess to have “first dibs”.
A stomach-churning list of euphemisms for semen or stuff (man paste, bollock yoghurt…) ensues and the flinging about of the ever present pots of hummus and tzatsiki add to the general queasiness. But this silliness belies the seriousness and emotional intelligence of the play.
Ex-squaddie Toby’s masculinity, already under threat because he can’t give Jess a baby, does not respond favourably to the offer, especially when it becomes apparent that Xav’s incessant clowning (especially as XavMan) masks the distinct possibility that he is secretly in love with Jess. The two men have to come to terms with each other before any decision about stuff can be made.
Stuff is a funny, disgusting, but ultimately emotionally rewarding, play and it has a cracking last line!
All three members of the cast are excellent. Eve Burley is convincing as the organised Jess and brings the right combination of fun and seriousness to the role. Peter Ash as Toby keeps his crisis of masculinity sympathetic rather than boorish and Karl Greenwood’s irrepressible performance as Xav suggests that if the other two do take on board his stuff, the kid is going to be a right handful!
Dramaturg, Martin Jameson, and Director, Alice Bartlett ensure that the subtleties of Mick Cooper’s script are not swamped by the broad humour.