Guest reviewer: Ellen Casey
Fat Jewels is a tragi-comedy following troubled youth Pat and his sexually sinister ‘family friend’ Danny as, over the course of one night, their many murky issues begin to come to light. It is at turns incredibly uncomfortable to watch and then quickly, bizarrely hilarious. The mood is set early on during a discussion of whether or not Pat might like to beat a cat as part of an obscure ‘therapy’ Danny is prescribing, or if he might actually be ready to find a more satisfying victim at the zoo. One of the fun things about Fat Jewels is they are not afraid to go weird – really weird – and with the darker topics that end up being discussed, a lot of the narrative risks (such as Danny’s dark backstory being tied up in a hatred of chickens) really pay off.
Another important aspect that is done really well is keeping the feel of genuine conversation throughout the play, so the twists and turns of Pat and Danny’s psyches – severely damaged as they are – unfold slowly and more naturally. Controlling exposition is so important in productions where atmosphere and tension is so paramount, and it’s skillfully done here.
The 70-minute runtime is exactly right for this kind of performance, allowing the tension and claustrophobia to build as intended until the explosive, cathartic, bizarre finale. However, it can be hard to balance comedy and the feeling of vague distress that Fat Jewels engenders and it is noticeable that in this case it is often the comedy that is sacrificed. This isn’t to say it’s wholly without funny moments, though they usually fall into the surreal set piece category – my favourite being a sleeping bag fight ending in a friendship ritual involving a plastic crown – but because of the claustrophobic nature of the rest of the play, the one-liners fail to land. That being said, balancing an atmosphere on a knife-edge, especially without an interval, is tricky and when the jokes do land they raise a genuine chuckle.
In a play that never lets up, with only two people performing in a sweltering small room, it’s important to have strong, dedicated performers. Luckily Fat Jewels is two for two. Robert Walters plays Danny with complete conviction and manages to evoke emotions from the audience that range from complete disgust to pity in a matter of minutes. It’s an impressive performance, though it’s maybe slightly concerning how easily he manages to disappear into the character, considering Danny’s proclivities! Hugh Train plays the affable, easily led Pat so well that I was tempted more than once to intervene and shepherd Pat to the nearest psychiatrist. However, it’s during the last 10 minutes when Pat finally snaps – and sweat, spit and chicken start flying – that he really finds his feet. He also has an unfortunate habit of mouthing the lines of his co-star – a small detail but it can really affect the immersion, especially in a performance like this. Overall, they play incredibly well off each other, no matter the subject matter they’re addressing, and it was an involving watch because of it.
My verdict? A really fun, disturbing and unique piece blessed with performers who can carry the material off.
Fat Jewels runs at The Hope Theatre until 21 July 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office.