I don’t see much theatre which is a shame because there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on on Brisbane, but I did manage to catch the Queensland Theatre Company’s production of Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig last night. I’m not going to lie, my interest was piqued by the title and when my friend Kathleen recommended I see it, a bunch of my fat friends and I arranged to go together.

I spent most of the time sitting in the Bille Brown studio’s generously wide seats angry, even though the production had played on the comedic aspects of the script. LaBute, a man, has written a story about how terribly hard it is for hetero men to select partners and play mates alike when there are only thin, shrieking women and fat pigs on offer. It really is all about the mens and their problems. The production really played up to this, and unfortunately for me it all came down to the performance of Paige Gardiner’s Jeanie (as main character Tom’s ex and co-worker). Jeanie exaggeratedly stomped, pouted, flopped and screamed around Tom (played by Christopher Sommers), while Amy Ingram’s Helen (as the “fat pig”) provided a warm and humorous alternative. I didn’t understand how Tom would feel bad about letting his heart lead him because in my experience even the most insecure men I’ve dated have chosen to stick with the fat chick they really like over societal pressure to date a more acceptable thinner woman.

Perhaps the issue is of place and context. The play was written by an American, and set in the United States. In this Australian production, no Americanisms were changed. Units of measurement, imperial; visiting imaginary colleagues, from Chicago; and the final heartbreaking scene, July 4th. Perhaps I can’t understand the experience of a busy and important white business man working in a big American city. The thing is, I don’t have to. I am a Fat Pig. If a play is going to use an insult frequently hurled at me, I’m going to be very critical of who it represents.

I can’t say that this is was altogether an unneeded production of the play, because I think it did have enough scope to get people thinking about size and love and standing up for what makes you happy. I just wish more was localised beside the accents. I wish Jeanie hadn’t served as such a literal counterweight to Helen – a way for the men in the audience to get a chuckle away at their own recollections of the insecure spurned women in their lives. I feel as if Helen was written about a woman who was significantly larger than Amy Ingram, otherwise the characters in this play were awfully sensitive to size.

The really successful and heartwrenching elements of the production: the minimal and flexible set design; cute use of colour vs greyscale in costuming; Steven Rooke’s misogynist and very punchable Carter; and that final scene. The actors took their bows with tears streaming down their faces. Many in the audience left patting theirs dry, while I was prying my fingernails from my palms.

Photo of Natalie wearing a red babydoll dress with a mesh top, and black leggings. A jacket is slung over an arm that also carries a black purse.
And now you’ve suffered through my amateur review, here’s what I wore! It was a mild Brisbane winter night, jacket not really required!

Top: Jens Fashionplus
Dress: Asos Curve
Leggings: Asos Curve
Boots: Target
Necklace: Lola and Bailey
Jacket (slung over arm): 1626 (now Autograph)
Bag: Dangerfield
Bangle: Evans

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  • http://project-kathryn.com kathryn

    OMG that makes me the worst of both worlds – insecure, shrieking and fat! At least the play didn't have fake American accents. I had to sit thought a friend's play once with the actors slipping in and out of New York accents… awful.

    Btw I didn't realise Autograph was the old 1626. Their clothes are a lot more conservative than I remember 1626 being.

  • Sonya

    I tend to agree with your review. I defintely was a little tear-y at the end, but was mostly a bit pissed off. I would have liked to have seen it more from the perspective of Helen, but considering the play was written by a man and from a male point of view, I guess that wasn't going to happen!

    Acting-wise, I liked Amy Ingham's Helen and didn't mind Christopher Sommer's Tom, but did think that both characters of Tom and Jeannie were a mix of OTT and self-conscious. Whether that's an acting choice/character choice/whatever, I don't really know.

    Overall, I did enjoy it though!

  • http://www.axisoffat.com Zoe

    Yes, I think you summed up exactly how I felt about this: What About The Menz?!

    I really believe that a lot of the power of the message was lost because of Jeannie's portrayal. Had LaBute written her as a more nuanced character, or even just a little less deranged, it would have been much more interesting.

  • http://thepocketrocket.wordpress.com Lauren

    There was a big kerfuffle about this when it opened in London – I refused to see it because I assumed it'd be exactly as you described. Eurgh.

    Your outfit is lovely, though! xx

  • BargainFatshionista

    aaand that's the reason I've never seen that play. At least it's giving fat actresses jobs?

    In any case, you looked fabulous and red is most definitely your color.

    http://bargainfatshionista.blogspot.com

  • Ally

    I remember seeing this play at Circa Theatre in Wellington in New Zealand a couple of years ago, maybe 3. I am an actress and pretty involved in the more radical Wellington scene, so seeing it at one of our more straight laced theatres seemed like it was going to be cool. Visibility! At a big theatre! I think I was also excited in terms of the employment potential for lovely fat actresses. I remember having very similar feelings to yours after seeing the play, I particularly remember feeling furious when in the scene where she was eating fast food and he was eating a salad, and I could not connect to the play at all because the entire plot required my empathy towards him. And I just thought he was an ass-hole. I remember thinking the sexy bits were quite interesting though, the Wellington ones were done in quite a lovely way I think, not in a fetishized fatty way, or in a look! a sexy fat person must be a joke way.

    Ally – http://iamoffendedbecause.blogspot.com/

  • http://fatuosity.net sizeoftheocean

    It was at least as much to do with the performance as the writing. In the STC production I saw, she was a much more nuanced character – definitely not a nice character, but much more human.

  • Joy

    Aww.. I'm sorry the play fell short..
    LaBute can absolutely be pretty misogynist in his writing (which he says is just talking about the world as it is- I guess? Or something.. I went to a hear him speak last summer in LA and he said something along those lines).
    I think it kind of sucks that Helen is written as the only “decent” person in the play, but even she's dismissed for her fatness.
    I think so much depends on the actors.. I've seen a couple of productions now with zero chemistry between Tom and Helen and the shows were excruciating! As an audience member, if I don't believe that those two really belong together- if I can't root for their love- what's the point?
    The production I did last summer definitely had it's flaws too… I'd love the chance to do the part again with a director who was really on the same page.. you know?

  • http://thirtiesgirl.livejournal.com/ thirtiesgirl

    Yeah, LaBute can be pretty misogynistic. He's also responsible for the play and movie, “The Shape of Things.” It's about a kind of shlubby guy (in the movie, played by Paul Ruud; not exactly fat, but with an 'average joe' look and body shape) who meets a beautiful but passively aggressively critical art student (Rachel Weisz in the movie). Ruud falls for her and over the course of their relationship, she subtly starts criticizing his looks, convinces him to dress better, eat more healthfully, drop some pounds, and eventually get a nose job to 'improve his looks.'

    Despite meeting all her requirements and becoming deeply emotionally entangled with Weisz's character, Weisz remains emotionally distant from Ruud's character. Ruud eventually turns to his female friend, played by Gretchen Mol in the movie, the long-time girlfriend of one of his male friends. In the movie, Mol's character is a slender, sporty California blonde with a sweet personality, very different from Weisz's more 'shrewish,' demanding character.

    In LaBute's world, it seems women can be one of two types: passive aggressive 'shrews,' like Weisz's character, or sweet, non-demanding characters, like Mol. It sounds like he's done it again in “Fat Pig,” with the demanding, 'shrewish' slender woman, and the sweet-tempered fat woman.

    I live in Los Angeles, and grew up in Southern California. I'm single, in my 40s and have been part of the dating scene off and on here since I was in my 20s. My years of experience in SoCal have shown that while men here will sometimes date and maintain a relationship with a fat girl, most of them draw the line when you appear “too fat” to them. This is largely true for more disproprotionally-shaped fat women. If you have more of an hourglass shape as a fat woman, you tend to stand a better chance in the dating scene in SoCal than if you don't.

    I've had the experience several times of meeting a guy online or out at a dance club, dated him for a brief period of time, get dumped or never hear from him again… only to see him out on the town later with a thinner woman. I can't comment on the personality of these other women since I've never met any of them. Maybe they're great people; maybe they're a better emotional match for the guy than I was. I have no way of knowing. But the point still stands that in SoCal, most guys seem to prefer the thinner woman, when judging purely on looks.

  • nitrojane

    I'm in a few different minds about Fat Pig. I actually think it's good LaBute wrote it from a male perspective. If it had been done from Helen's, a lot of people would have dismissed the whole play as a “typical fat girl whining about the inequities of life” type thing. As sad as that is, having it from the male perspective gives more food for thought to those who aren't acquainted with the sphere of FA. Perhaps the play might be a catalyst for some people to think differently about the way they've treated someone fat, yaknow?

    THAT being said, I am aware this gives Neil LaBute too much credit as a playwrite. Given his previous works, he does take a misogynistic tone within the 1950s heirarchical stance of “OH SILLY IRRATIONAL WOMAN, DONT YOU KNOW YOU ONLY EXIST FOR MY PLEASURE?!”

    I too thought it was infuriating that it took the angle of “oh poor me, i have to choose between a woman i love and a society/woman i hate but can't part from because that might actually give me some depth.” GEE LIFE'S HARD WHEN YOU'RE A THIN WHITE UPPER-MIDDLE CLASS MAN.

    Again i'm in two minds about Jeanie. Queenslanders in particular, and Australia as a whole tends to exaggerate many characters in the dramatic arts for comedic effect. It's a way to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and as part of that group I did enjoy her performance. Did it give realism/depth to a play that could really shake people's core regarding size? No. The fact of the matter is that all the characters in this play are one side or another, which just isn't reality. Even Tom had the depth of a paddling pool, despite the actor's excellent job with what he had to work with.

    All in all i enjoyed it, especially the final gut-wrenching scene (that has actually happened to me). I teared up, but this play isn't going to change the way most people think, sadly. I think parts of it were spot on and others need improvement.

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