Neil LaBute is known as somewhat of a provocateur, and with a play called Fat Pig you’d be forgiven for expecting something dangerous and sharp. You’d expect to be challenged and prodded in uncomfortable ways. You’d expect to be amused and outraged. Going into this play, my advice would be – lower your expectations.
The play opens at a cafeteria, where Helen (Lulu McClatchy) is on her lunch break, happily consuming her dessert after a couple of slices of pizza. Tom (Lyall Brooks) enters, with his unappealing bean shoot salad, and they strike up a warm and flirty conversation. The problems with the play are evident even in this rather offhand opening. Helen’s self-effacing humour around her weight and Tom’s inoffensive affability are sign-posted rather obviously, rendering this ostensibly naturalistic banter awkward and unconvincing.
At work, Tom is goaded by his friend Carter (Patrick Harvey) into spilling the beans on the new girl in his life. When Accounts Manager Jeannie (Cassandra Magrath) gets wind of this she joins the fray, motivated by unresolved feelings towards Tom. The painful and extracted embarrassment Tom demonstrates regarding Helen’s weight takes up the majority of the play, and the circular arguments and superficial investigation of the issues soon become wearisome.
The direction by Daniel Frederiksen doesn’t help. The one-note nature of the characterisations is exacerbated by the playing style. Jeannie is shrill, and Helen is pleasant. Tom is irritatingly whiny and pathetic. Interestingly, the only performance I liked was Patrick Harvey’s. Playing the clichéd "odious best mate with a hidden soft side", Harvey manages to inject some life into proceedings, and I found myself wishing he’d stay on stage longer.
The production looks cobbled together, and the set (by the usually reliable Peter Mumford) is clunky and irrational. Why have a large double bed in the centre of the playing space and use it for one scene? What is with the iron barriers and the utterly pointless screen that projects stem cells between scenes? The lighting (by Tanje Ruddick) is good, but no production is saved by lighting alone.
Neil LaBute's undoubted technical skill seems to have deserted him for Fat Pig. Structurally messy, barely amusing, the whole piece lacks bite. In fact, it’s rather like finding a toothless gummy shark sucking gently on your shin.