Neil LaBute is known for his contemporary insight into relationships, providing a particularly derisive and often abhorrent view of how humans interact when it comes to relationships. Each of his pieces are funny, emotional and often give you a slap in the face that you weren’t expecting.
Fat Pig does not hold back in its observations of men and women and their obsession with image and the perceived societal pressures. It is a fantastic script with many opportunities to highlight human truths and enjoy an element humour and self-deprecation of ourselves.
Tom is a good looking young business man. He meets Helen and they hit it off. Helen however is “fat” and both of them are conscious of it from the outset. Fat Pig is essentially a love story with a bit of punch.
Director Jesse Butler and the Bakehouse Theatre Company have produced a strong production in appropriately intimate surroundings. Butler’s understanding and appreciation of the text is evident and although a little stilted at the beginning, really fleshes out the nuances of the piece. It is a steady hand that Butler uses to control this production, but as an audience member it could amp up the slap in the face sting of LaBute’s concepts which is slightly lacking — particularly in the final scene.
Julia Mayer as Helen and Elliot Howard as Tom are well matched in pitch and performance, and in the second act their love for each other (and Tom’s innate need for a relationship of substance) provides some genuinely heartening moments. Howard understands his character well but is a little wooden at times, which creates a barrier to ensuring empathy — a tricky job for any actor in this role.
Mayer is warm and has a laugh that genuinely endears kindness. The trouble is that Helen is supposed to be fat, not just a bit plump… she’s fat enough to make Tom question his ability to date her and for his friends to notice her weight. Sure his “friends” are shallow and frown upon more than a carrot stick being consumed, but Mayer is by no means fat enough for the role.
The team do attempt to hide this lack of weight under baggy and often really unfashionable, daggy clothing, which is disappointing as it’s clear from the character that although she is overweight she is by no means slobby or unkempt. Mayer does the best with what she’s got though and her characterisation is lovely and works well with Howard’s Tom.
Stealing the show (and deservedly so with all the best, most cringe-worthy lines) is Daniel McKinnon as Tom’s work-mate Carter. McKinnon is a laconic Aussie twenty-something who really just tells it like he sees it… even if it is through prejudiced, yobbo, misogynistic goggles. McKinnon is at ease in the piece and almost brings the audience around to his way of thinking in his key monologue that has a small glimpse of heart — but in true LaBute style, quickly snaps it away before we can get too comfortable.
Renee Gentle as Jeannie is suitably rake thin, bitchy and self centered… just as she should be. The set makes good use of the small intimate space without being too cluttered or overly prescriptive.
This is a great script, performed by a strong cast and led by a skilled production team that could perhaps do with a little more of the trademark LaBute punch.
Fat Pig is on at the Bakehouse Theatre until 28 July 2012.
Bookings at www.bakehousetheatre.com