It’s a title that demands attention. Fat Pig, which opened this week at the Trafalgar Studios, London, is the latest of Neil LaBute’s play to be staged in the West End.
In its premise at least Fat Pig has the acidity you would expect from LaBute: a man has to deal with the agressively hostile response of his colleagues when he starts dating an overweight woman. But, according to the reviews, the writing also contains a surprising level of tenderness and sensitivity as well as what the critics term LaBute’s ‘trademark shock tactics.’
Premiering at the Off-Broadway MCC Theatre in 2005, Fat Pig comes to London boasting the crowd-pleasing quartet of Peep Show‘s Robert Webb, My Family’s Kris Marshall, Gavin and Stacey’s Joanna Page and relative newcomer Ella Smith.
The critical response has been mainly favourable. Michael Billington writing in the Guardian commends the play’s ‘superb emotional accuracy’. He like most of the critics praises all four performances before making special mention of Smith as being ‘exceptional’ in the role of Helen, the woman whose charms Robert Webb’s Tom falls for.
Nicholas de Jongh, writing in the Evening Standard, awarded the play three stars. But while he admitted that as ‘a comedy of character and situation, Fat Pig induces waves of laughter’, he found some aspects of it particularly the way the female characters were ridiculed repellent.
Benedict Nightingale, in another three star review for the Times commented on some of the play’s structural flaws. He found the speed in which Helen and Tom fall in love rather implausible and thought the character of Tom’s bitchy ex-girlfriend, Jeannie, played by Joanna Page, was rather one-note. But despite these reservations he found the production otherwise excellent.
Alice Jones, writing in the Independent, takes issue with the ‘luridly offensive’ title, but finds the play itself appealing: ‘rom-com that comes with a typically bleak LaButian twist of the knife.’ She applauds the comic performances of Marshall and Webb and concludes that despite some structural issues, the ‘audience can clearly hear a human heart beating under any amount of dramatic flabbiness.’
The Stage’s Jeremy Austin, while applauding the performances of the cast, found the play dramatically lacking. He concludes that ‘while the dialogue is among LaBute’s best, so naturalistic, so quick and cutting, and while casting and performances could not be bettered,’ the play could do with a little more meat on its bones, so to speak.
Quentin Letts, writing in the Daily Mail was – predictably – more forthright. He thought Webb and Marshall were fine but that Page was miscast. He is complimentary about Smith’s performance but then goes on to call her a ‘wobbling beaut.’ He concludes his rather snippy review by dismissing the play as not interesting enough to warrant its West End slot, and while he predicts it will be popular given the recognisable names in the cast, he doesn’t think it is deserving of such popularity.
Fat Pig is at Trafalgar Studios, London, until 6 September 2008.