Ever been ashamed of something? Something that gave you so much personal pleasure but you were ultimately too spineless to go public with your little secret? In Fat Pig, our protagonist Tom is in exactly this predicament. Stricken by the curse of superficiality and perpetually worrying about what everybody else in his life thinks, he’s become a prisoner in a cell of his own creation with only mirrors and reflections and it’s not pretty.
As for the so-called ‘predicament’, Tom’s fallen head over heels in love with a gorgeous girl of the horizontally challenged variety. Problem? He’s surrounded by thin people (and to be fair he’s thin or buff, rather) himself. Evidently, according to the downright nasty people he surrounds himself with in his boys-club work environment, he can do better. It is their collective view that when you look like Brad Pitt you’re better off sticking to the Angelina Jolie’s of this world. In other words, it’s best to stick to your own kind and stop wading in the rotund pool.
There was a lot of honesty talk in the biting and shocking dialogue of Lab Kelpie’s premier production Fat Pig, showing at Chapel off Chapel until this Sunday night. I could tell this made people uneasy and although I heard some positive whispers post-show, I wondered if as an audience, we were divided in our reviews. I for one went through the whole gamut of emotions sitting in the front row and emerged feeling unsettled and forced to question my own superficiality. The play was undoubtedly confronting and cruel but also incredibly funny. South Park came to mind (as it often does) and not because the play was at all thematically or stylistically similar but because of the way I responded to the humour- not quite sure whether it was ok to laugh. It was also, as promised, honest and I thought it was a very brave piece of work, despite dealing narratively with cowardice.
When it came time to see Fat Pig last week, I wasn’t familiar with its American playwright Neil LaBute who is also an accomplished film director and screenwriter. After watching extensive online interviews and perusing his filmography last night, I’ve come to the conclusion that LaBute writes some pretty envelope-pushing post-modern material. What is great about Fat Pig, despite premiering Off-Broadway in New York in 2004, was that it was completely convincing as an Aussie story as well. The skilful writing clearly translated across the continents and I felt this was due to the fact it dealt with subject matter most people could relate to in some way. It was refreshing to read later online that reaching a broader audience was a founding premise of Lab Kelpie. Mission accomplished.
The stand out performance was Patrick Harvey (Tom’s friend Carter) who I vaguely remember from his Neighbours days but have never seen perform on stage. He played one of the most despicable characters in the play but managed to do it in an unapologetic and completely committed way. His interpretation was so spot on and reminiscent of a David Brent type character. In fact, the whole play reminded me a little of The Office, and not just due to the setting and work dynamics. There seemed to be a moral compass character (in this case Hannah, played by Lulu McClatchy) and all of the other characters fell short. In one of the best performances I’ve seen all year, Harvey embodied Carter in an all encapsulating way. Everything from his hand gestures, to his accent and gait. He was superb and wickedly funny at the same time and although he was a ‘big character’ it was the little moments I enjoyed the most. The judgemental raise of an eyebrow or the tapping of an IPhone against the desk, it was all expertly crafted.
The other performances were also excellent and I commend the other actors and director that I have not yet mentioned, Lyall Brooks (Tom), Cassandra Magrath (Jeannie) and the director (Daniel Frederiksen) for executing this zeitgeist play with integrity. They captured the image-focussed 21st Century and the various personal repercussions of getting caught up in its hedonistic allure. This is all on the surface though. The theme that resonated with me in Fat Pig was the exploration of weakness and possessing a lack of courage. This was something I hadn’t seen done well on stage and a story I hadn’t seen quite told like this before. Just as LaBute himself said in an interview I’m going to fail to adequately cite here, “So many people have written about relationships before, you better have something new to say”.