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A CurtainUp London London Review
Fat Pig

But I'm pretty all right with who I am now. The trick is getting other people to be okay with it!— Helen
Fat Pig
Robert Webb as Tom and Ella Smith as Helen
(Photo: Stephen Cummiskey)
Fat Pig, Neil LaBute's middle work in his trilogy about body image which started with my favourite LaBute play The Shape of Things, comes to London and finds a cast of well known faces, three of them television comedy actors. The central character is Helen, a very large girl with a beautiful personality played by Ella Smith who hasn't joined the other three actors in television work but has been tellingly largely confined to work on radio. The casting and the venue at the Trafalgar Studios seems set to get a new audience into plays. Interestingly Fat Pig covers some of the same territory as the musical Hairspray but without the sugary ending.

Elyse Sommer has reviewed Fat Pig in New York where it won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Play. (Fat Pig). The playwright is directing his own work here in London. Rather than resite the play to a British setting, Neil LaBute has asked the cast to adopt American accents which they do to a greater or lesser extent. This starts us thinking about whether this play has something particular to say about America and American ideas of bodily perfection. Would it be different in London? I think not. The conformity which Tom ultimately and sadly succumbs to, is as much a factor here as it is across the Atlantic.

In London, Robert Webb plays Tom, the man who meets super-sized Helen who is full of confidence, candour and acceptance about her weight. His unpleasant work colleague Carter (Kris Marshall) pounces cobra like on the first sign of weakness. To Carter women are a commodity. ". . date all these gals and act like you're Mr Sensitive, but how does it always end up? The exact same way it does for me . . .. you get bored or cornered or feel a touch nervous and you drop 'em like they were old produce."

The thing is that Tom seems fine with Helen in private, it's the peer pressure which gets to him. But the ending could have ambiguity. Although Tom seems to be saying to Helen that he cannot cope with what others are saying about him and his fat girl friend, might it be also that he has reached his commitment-phobe boundary? As Helen loses her confidence and offers to change her body to please Tom the play reaches a low point. This lovely girl now sees herself as undeserving and that is a tragedy.

On the night I saw the play the audience seemed to identify more with the arrogant Carter (Kris Marshall rather disturbingly wearing an cellphone earpiece after his recent accident in Bristol) whose approach to women consists of criticising the drop dead gorgeous (to look at) Joanna Page. You cannot imagine how vitriolic he is about Helen. But maybe they were laughing at him rather than with him — I have my doubts. However there were a number of well earned hisses and intakes of breath at some of the more egregious body calls, so some in the audience at least felt it might be unacceptable to take pot shots at the obese.

Robert Webb has a pleasing innocence as Tom and Ella Smith is bubbly and attractive. Kris Marshall's character is more one sided although his long speech about having an obese mother gives us an insight into his black humour as body armour protective approach. Jeannie (Joanna Page) has been in an on-off relationship with Tom and is defensive and hurting about his having another girlfriend and a big girl like Helen. Carter wants his girlfriend to be arm candy and he admits how much otherness scares him after his experience with his unconventional mother. Christopher Oram's sets are aesthetic, modern and change with a splash of loud rock, each scene having an episodic shorthand surtitle. The more I think about Fat Pig the more I think it is as much about the nature of relationships and conformity as about body size and like all LaBute plays, the themes continue to grab you days after viewing.

Editor's Note: As Fat Pig is opening in London, the final play in LaBute's trilogy is opening at the same venue where Fat Pig opened. Elyse Sommer's review will be posted after the official June 2nd opening—reasons to be pretty.

Fat Pig
Written and directed by Neil LaBute

Starring: Robert Webb, Kris Marshall
With: Joanna Webb and Ella Smith
Design: Christopher Oram
Lighting: Johanna Town
Sound: Fergus O'Hare
Running time: Two hours including an interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6632
Booking to 6th September 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 28th May 2008 performance at The Trafalgar Studios One, Whitehall, London SW1 (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross/Embankment)
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