NOTE: This review is from the Trafalgar Studios run. Cast changes have taken place since!!
With a title like this, it's pretty easy to guess what the subject matter might be. But the title seems more like a promotional device than a succinct expression of what the play is actually about. Writer Neil Labute's big idea here is to show what the outcome is when Tom (Robert Webb) a skinny, corporate type with the brain-size of a brussel sprout is attracted to Helen (Ella Smith) an overweight librarian he chances to meet while having lunch one day. They start dating, but Tom keeps it secret from his porno-obsessed pal, Carter (Kris Marshall), and the vixen-like girl he's been seeing on and off, Jeannie (Joanna Page).
The play flips between scenes showing the developing romance between Tom and Helen, and scenes back at Tom's office where his relationship is eventually discovered when Jeannie catches him out on a lie, and Carter circulates Helen's photo round the entire office.
I'm not sure it was necessary for 'Fat Pig' to be played with American accents or even to be set in the US. The accents are not wholly consistent and become something of a distraction. The play could easily have been adapted for the UK, where the themes are as much in evidence as in the States. And the pay-off here is not as forceful as it might have been because we British are apt to excuse ourselves from the attitudes displayed by Americans, even if we're eager followers of the fashions and fads laid down across the Atlantic.
Ella Smith's Helen is a little too nice to be true, and far too tame to boot. The self-deprecating character we meet at the start of the play, seemed to me to be confident enough to see - as she does at one point - that she's being hidden away from people, and to rebel or at least assert herself. And I couldn't believe that she would allow herself to be shepherded to a remote corner of the beach at the office outing, even given the fact that 'love is often blind'.
Kris Marshall is the repellent office slime-ball, though he's actually not as slimy or over-bearing as he could have been, even if he admits to humiliating his mother in public because of her weight. On the other hand, Joanna Page fills the bill more than adequately in the nastiness department, with claws a mile long and the ability to dig them in pretty deep. And Robert Webb gives us a mousey, crowd-follower whose weakness and desire to fit in ultimately prove his undoing.
Fat Pig is rather cruel, and intentionally so of course. But it's just not acerbic or funny enough to be as bitingly cruel as it could have been. In a sense, it needed to go further and to be harsher, but then it might have dulled the comedy completely. In the end, I was left wondering what it was telling me that I didn't already know about human beings, which sort of brings me back to the title. 'Fat Pig' doesn't enlighten or inform us about the causes of obesity, rather it focuses on how we're able to cave in under the weight of peer pressure. In that sense, it is unsettling but not terribly illuminating.
I don't think 'Fat Pig' is likely to change any attitudes. Victims of admen and our own stupidity, our obsession with appearance shows no sign of abating any time soon, and the kind of people epitomised by Carter in particular are unlikely to mend their ways. And maybe that's exactly Labute's point.
What the popular press had to say.....
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Induces waves of laughter. " ALICE JONES for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Snappy production." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "In short the play tells us nothing we didn't know already...The jokes in the show aren't nearly as funny as they should be." JEREMY AUSTIN for THE STAGE says, "LaBute fails to find enough substance in the piece." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Sassy, dangerously comic dialogue and some subtle observation." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "But it would an even better play if it told us why America, founded on the notion of independence, has turned into such a tragically conformist republic."
Originally published on